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Aussie Government Gives PDF the Thumbs Down 179

littlekorea writes "The central IT office of the Australian Government has advised its agencies to offer alternatives to Adobe's Portable Document Format to ensure folks with impaired vision are able to consume information on the Web. A Government-funded study found that PDFs can present themselves as image-only files to screen readers, rendering the information contained within them unreadable for the vision impaired."
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Aussie Government Gives PDF the Thumbs Down

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  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @02:49AM (#34401136) Homepage Journal

    Given the number of times government officials around the world have failed to understand the difference between removing text in a PDF and replacing it with black and just covering the text over with black, they'd probably get it wrong about half the time even with best intentions.

  • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @02:54AM (#34401178)
    Yes, but what easier way for a bureaucrat than: printing the document, inserting into a scanner (err.. document center) and ... voila, job done.

    Learn how to operate another program? Spend from the budget for another set of licenses? (the horror)... start to use Open Office or the like?

  • What format (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bigtreeman ( 565428 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @03:15AM (#34401296)

    Missing from the statement is what the preferred format is.

    I would expect a Microsoft format from our illustrious leaders.

    Reads like a fairly dumb statement which is what I always
    expect from our government.

    Sounds like a lead up to them locking themselves (us) into
    using a proprietary, expensive, unusable system.

    Who , me , negative ,

  • by robbak ( 775424 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @03:27AM (#34401366) Homepage

    And the rest of us say "Get rid of it". We do not access government documents to be blown away by their totally rad page style. We access them for information, and extracting the information from the glumph that encases it is sometimes hard for the best of us.

    html all the way. Any formatting you cannot fit in a simple stylsheet can get left out.

  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Barny ( 103770 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @04:33AM (#34401702) Journal

    Yes it is, these shouldn't be features, it should be simple for a text-speech program to follow without having some tacked on standard that you now have to expect everyone to follow.

    The layout should compliment the data, not vice versa. If you have to think for one second "will my document be able to be accessed by vision impaired" then that is one second more than it should be, if you type three columns of text in a continuous flow, it should be able to read it back as such without having to go over it later and mark it up.

  • Re:What format (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @04:34AM (#34401710) Homepage Journal

    I would expect a Microsoft format from our illustrious leaders.

    Bingo. Anyone who doesn't see Microsoft's hand in this is hopelessly naive.

  • by Kizor ( 863772 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @05:32AM (#34402020)
    I expect they could require that all they wanted, and it still wouldn't happen.

    If my usability manuals are to be believed, people have neglected the safeties of nuclear reactors because those things are a chore and do nothing anyway. If you don't want your users to do something, then you design your system so that they never get the option.
  • by TCDown ( 1788954 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @06:31AM (#34402264)
    I don't understand the comparrison between websites and PDF's? Graphical text banners, or images that contain text, are perfectly acceptable under WCAG, as long as alt text or long descriptions are used correctly. And if a PDF is correctly created then text can easily be read by a screen reader.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @08:34AM (#34402860) Homepage Journal

    Congratulations, you have jut declared that you do not wish to be able to download forms over the internet.

  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @08:40AM (#34402884) Homepage

    So basically they are saying that *because* it is possible to produce a shoddy PDF file which is basically an image dump, that this is reason enough not to use the format?
    By this same reckoning, you could produce a really shoddy HTML page which also consists of images and no text... Virtually any format could be misused in this way.

    So what's the alternative? That we all revert back to ASCII text since its incapable of holding graphics?

    Personally i hate seeing poorly designed websites or pdf files as i described here, where the text is actually an embedded image (or worse - a flash file) and there is no clickable index etc.
    We should probably start naming and shaming pdf creation software, and those who use (or misuse) such tools.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @09:53AM (#34403402) Journal

    No, that would be analogous to allowing PDF, but requiring the text portions actually be text.

    And that would actually be reasonable.

  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @09:55AM (#34403422) Homepage

    Are you talking about modifying existing pdf files, or simply creating new ones?

    OpenOffice/LibreOffice has a PDF Import extension which does a pretty good job of editing, i also found via a very quick google search a pdfedit program on sourceforge - []

    As for creating pdf files, there are countless programs for doing that, openoffice, pdflatex, virtually anything that can print to postscript combined with ps2pdf etc etc etc.

    Sure, HTML is preferable to PDF for web content, but PDF is a pretty good format when used appropriately.

  • by tixxit ( 1107127 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @10:07AM (#34403520)

    Working as a web developer for the Canadian gov't, we had some similar rules for content. Mainly, you always had to provide it in the most accessible form possible. This usually meant HTML > PDF > Office Document. However, it was always on a best effort/convenience basis. So, if you posted PowerPoint slides, you also had to post the PDF versions, since making a PDF version was dead simple. However, we certainly weren't required to go all out and make a usable HTML version as well.

    We also offered many things (eg. transcription or translation) on an "as requested" basis, since technically we were suppose to offer them, but realistically we didn't have the budget to do it for everything. This worked well.

    I think just flat out banning PDFs is stupid. Require accessibility (best-effort), but allow for wiggle room. Yeah, it would be great if all PDFs had real text in them, but if the choice for some gov't agency is to either post an inaccessible version of the document or post nothing at all (because the time/cost required to make it accessible is too high), then they should be able to post the inaccessible version.

  • by VolciMaster ( 821873 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @10:10AM (#34403554) Homepage

    Most times I follow a link and discover the content is PDF, I give it a pass. If you want to publish on the web, use HTML.

    And if you *truly* want to ensure it *always* looks the same *everywhere*, you use PDF

  • by Taxman415a ( 863020 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @10:51AM (#34404006) Homepage Journal

    This is not true. PDF is capable of preserving text flow if the document contains such information.

    Yes, this can be done, but it is almost universally not done. Of all the pdfs out there, almost all of them that have anything but single column text flow incorrectly. The answer is of course to include this information every time, but I don't see how you can mandate that if the standard doesn't include it and most or all current software creates pdfs that don't have it.

    If you have a multi-column layout, then a pdf-to-text algorithm (first step in screen reading) is likely to put column-2-line-1 between column-1-lines-{1 and 2}. Best of luck sorting that out.

    In this case it is the pdf-to-text algorithm to be broken, and should be fixed.

    I'm not sure that you can always figure out the text flow correctly a posteriori. Once the correct text flow information hasn't been encoded in the document, it's a bit of a crap shoot in some cases to figure out what was intended. Where should that floating box go? Many pdfs have text flow broken up so badly that they appear to read randomly. A few bits from one sentence, then a few words or parts from the middle of another paragraph. Literally the best option for some pdfs is to export them as images and import those to an ocr program.

  • by StuartHankins ( 1020819 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:31PM (#34405214)
    Most contracts and many forms require rendering with specific type sizes, specific layouts etc. That isn't currently possible with CSS / HTML, which is why PDF is such an important format to many industries where legal compliance with a national agency, standards body, regulated industry body, or governmental standard is necessary.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN