PDFs are not Accessible! Oh No! Convert Everything!

Alarm bells went off recently at my institution when some colleagues reported that they’d heard that “PDFs are not accessible” and that all of our electronic reserve materials would need to be converted into an accessible format and that while the library would help, its staff did not have the time to do all that would need to be done.  And so, as is often the case, the task would fall on individual instructors who, apparently, do have the time.

We could discuss the bad economics of shifting a task from those who are trained in a skill and cost less to those who are not trained and cost more.  Or we could question the quality control consequences of having 150 different people carry out a task unsupervised.  But instead, we can try to make some headway on a sketch of how a small institution might proceed…

  • A clarification, from a “non-partisan” perspective, about what the legal and regulatory situation actually is.  We need to get clear on the “what we must do” and “what we should do” and “what we can do”
  • Some background on what “accessible instructional material” means.  We’ve learned a bit already about universal design – where does this issue fit in with that? 
  • Develop shared sense of how we have dealt with AIM issues heretofore.
  • Some facts on size of e-reserves as currently used, proportion that are problematic, etc.
  • Learn about issues in the PDF/Ebook area.
  • Perhaps develop a short tutorial on ebooks and ebook formats?
  • Develop a cost/benefit based strategy for achieving AIM goals we set. What should we do first?

… and then get to work learning something.

    Background on Law and Policy

    1. Background material at the National Center for Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)
    2. The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities
    Recommendation#12:Faculty/Staff Awareness and Capacity-Building (report p 79The Commission recommends that federally sponsored projects and programs encourage and support systematic faculty and staff professional development with respect to selection, production and delivery of high-quality AIM to meet the needs of students with disabilities in postsecondary settings.

    Federally sponsored … grants… and contracts that involve … creation of materials that could be used for postsecondary instruction need to support accessibility. … encourages … institutions to …utilize Section 508 procurement and purchasing guidelines in their digital product development ….

    Higher education institutions, consistent with the requirements of the ADA and Section 504, should purchase authoring tools for use by faculty, staff and students in working with accessible digital publications. In addition, every postsecondary institution should offer a mandatory system-wide orientation for faculty, staff, teaching assistants and administrators concerning strategies for ensuring accessibility in all aspects of the education enterprise, including readings, courseware and instructional technology, assessments and instructor-made materials. ….

    Ebooks and Accessibility

    1. Accessibility of eBooks @ Britain’s Royal National Institute of Blind People
    2. Wikipedia Comparison of e-book formats

    “PDFs are Not Accessible” is Not Quite Accurate

    PDFs come in at least three flavors.  One is simply a scan (image) of a text page.  It is a “raster” image – dots on the page that our eyes see as letters but that mean nothing to the computer.  A second version has these images optically recognized and the document has a sort of “text in the background.”  The text is more or less accurate depending on the quality of the image.  The third kind is a pdf that is produced FROM a text document (as when you save a Word document as a pdf).  This file contains the full text of the original and can contain meta-information as well.
    You can recognize either flavor 2 or 3 when you view the document in Adobe Acrobat and you can use your mouse to select and copy text.
    Documents of flavor 2 and 3 can be made accessible through various means.  The task can range from simple to tedious.  Below are some sources of information on the options.
    1. Adobe.com How to Make Accessible Adobe PDF Documents: A Guide for Document Authors
    2. HowTo.gov Creating Accessible PDFs
    3. Ohio State University.  Creating Accessible PDF from Scanned Documents
    4. How to Geek.  How to Convert PDF Files for Easy Ebook Reading describes free software called Calibre
    5. Cal State Sacramento.  How to Create Accessible PDFs Using Adobe Acrobat
    6. Adobe.com Adobe® Acrobat® 9 Pro Accessibility Guide: Creating Accessible Forms
    7. AcrobatUsers.com Making Forms Accessible