PDF and Flash files are ubiquitous with hundreds of millions of files on the web. They contain an enormous amount of useful, important and interesting information most of which is not available on-line in any other format. The audience for these files will include people with disabilities. Electronic files are particularly important for people with disabilities that make it difficult or impossible for them to access hardcopy. This may be because of a vision impairment, or a physical impairment that prevents them holding a book, or because they find reading difficult and benefit from having the text read to them. Electronic files can also provide alternative presentations of material, for example captioning for people with hearing impairments. There are moral, legal and financial reasons for making electronic information, including PDF and Flash, accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
Historically PDF and Flash were not accessible. In 2001 Adobe made changes to enable the files to be accessible. It has worked very hard since then to extend the document formats and the various readers and development tools to make it easier to create and distribute files that are accessible. As well as working on the technology Adobe has been very active on the various standards bodies, in particular ISO, and industry committees such as AIA to ensure the formats are fully defined and supported.
Even with all this effort there are still an enormous number of files being distributed that are not accessible. This is partly through ignorance of the creators of the file and partly because it has been difficult to create well formed files. Adobe has made some announcements recently that tackle both these issues.
A new set of training materials is available made up of a set of documents on accessibility, including one describing how to create accessible PDF from Microsoft Word. This give clear guidance on how to author Word documents and the steps required to turn them into accessible PDF. The steps are clearly laid out and include description of some actions that are required even though it might be thought that they would have been done automatically. This clarity is important as it means that a user will not think they have done something wrong, or missed something out, when they have to touch-up the file at the end.
Although PDF can be made accessible the preferred format for many people with vision impairments is DAISY (the digital talking book standard). The latest version of Adobe InDesign CS4 includes a function to export a file in the DAISY DTBook format. Being able to generate standard print format, large print format, accessible PDF files and DAISY files from a single source with ease means that the document can be provided in the most convenient and usable format for a specific user. This is a better solution than trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution.
Flash CS4 Professional offers improvements to the FLVPlayback video component that make the default player controls accessible automatically, without any coding required by the developer. At present very few Flash videos are controllable from the keyboard but instead require careful mouse positioning which is obviously impossible for people with vision impairments but is also difficult for people with limited hand control. In future any Flash video will be controllable by a small number of standard shortcut keys.
Colour Blind Support
People who are colour blind can find it difficult, or impossible, to distinguish colours that look distinctly different to people with full colour vision. Colour Universal Design (CUD) filters simulate what a person who is colour blind will see; the designer can then modify hues and tones to help the user distinguish the different areas of colour. At the same time the designer should consider distinguishing the areas of colour by other means such as patterns, borders or fonts.
Adobe has integrated support for Colour Universal Design (CUD) filters in Illustrator and Photoshop to help authors create accessible images.
These announcements show Adobe's continued commitment to improving the accessibility of its products and the accessibility of the output of these products.