As they prepare to comply with new requirements to make Web sites readable by visually impaired users, federal Webmasters point to a major concern - PDF files.
But Adobe Systems Inc., the company that invented Portable Document Format, says a new version of its Acrobat Reader will be available by spring. The new version will make it possible for screen readers to read many of the PDF files that are now unreadable, said Rick Brown, accessibility chief at Adobe.
"The government uses PDF for scanning in old documents" from the pre-electronic era so they can be viewed on computer screens, Brown said. These are essentially pictures of old pages and usually cannot be deciphered by screen readers.
Other PDF files contain text as well as images. Screen readers often can read the text, but not necessarily in the same way it was arranged for viewers who have good eyesight.
Adobe is designing its new reader to follow the logical structure of each story. "Logical structure can indicate precise reading order and improve navigation, particularly for longer, complex documents," Adobe says in a description of its future reader. The reader "will be able to follow a single article from beginning to end, much as a sighted person would flip through the newspaper pages to continue reading an article," Adobe says.
The new reader will work best with new PDF files, especially those that have been designed with accessibility in mind, Brown said. But the reader will "attempt to make" old PDF files accessible to screen readers as well.
Adobe also is developing "some automated authoring tools that will make it very easy to create a PDF file that's accessible," Brown said.