Of course, to create an accessible PDF from Word, the Word document needs to be done properly, otherwise it doesn’t matter what you use to create the PDF, it won’t be accessible.
I had previously heard that Office 2007 (or 12 back then) was going to have built in PDF support, with tagging (i.e. accessible output). Not too long ago I installed Vista and Office 2007 on my work machine, but there was no sign of it. Then I found the
Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS Add-in for 2007 Microsoft Office.
It would be great if you could just ‘save as’ (which itself is an improvement on having to remember that PDFs are print-outs) and create a PDF of your document from Word, Excel or Powerpoint.
Whilst preparing the materials for a course on accessibility PDFs, I thought I’d give it a go with a really simple document. The results initally looked great (apart from being several times the file size), but then I dug in a little.
The document is very simple, with just headings, lists, paragraphs and images, but all the text is saved as images.
These images do have ‘actual text’, but that just strikes me as a work-around. According to Adobe’s own Accessibility Techniques, ‘Actual Text’ is for:
text that will be sent to a screen reader. If text is entered, the entered text will be read, and not the text that may comprise the displayed document content. This property should be entered only if you
want something other than the content of an element to be read by a screen reader. Basically, this is replacement text.
For comparison, ‘Alternate Text’ is
additional or descriptive text that can be used to describe an image, formula, or other item in the document that does not translate naturally into text.
So it isn’t wrong to use this attibute for passing text through to alternative readers, but why isn’t it just text?
Compared to the same document created from Word 2003 & Acrobat 8:
The difference it makes in a screen reader is fairly stark, even if you consider it technical accessible:
Because of all the separated images a screen reader can’t tell what’s a sentence and what’s just a word. (These simple test documents can be made available if you want to check this.)
Worse still, the accessibility features built into Acrobat are useless:
- Reflowing the document to fit the screen width just blanks out the content.
- Zooming into the text shows blockier text than when using an Acrobat created PDF.
- Using different colours schemes doesn’t work (again, blank content).
- You can’t select text to copy and paste elsewhere (not strictly accessibility, but annoying).
I would say that this is a very misleading dialogue:
Given that the Office 2007 PDF pluggin is a free download (once you’ve paid for Office 2007 of course), I was hoping that most people internally could use that instead of paying the Adobe tax for accessible PDFs.
Unfortunately, without providing reasonably accessible output, I can’t use or recommend that option.
Update – it’s a font thing
Thanks to the quick responses from Microsoft, it turns out not to be as bad as initially thought. The use of a non-standard font seems to have triggered the use of bitmapped text. I changed the font to Arial, and the structure and text came out fine, possibly clearer than the Adobe version.
In comparison to the non-standard fonts version:
- Reflowing the document to fit the screen width shows the text content, but blanks out the image.
- Zooming into the text is fine.
- Using different colours schemes is fine.
- You can select text to copy and paste elsewhere.
So, much better, although I can’t work out why the image disappears.
However, half the reason we use PDF in the first place is that we can embed our (nicer) company font into documents we send out. The Microsoft test team are currently investigating why this font triggered the issue, but for now the advice (from me) has to be to use ‘standard’ fonts and test thoroughly for accessibility.