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Accept No Substitutes!

By Geof Collis
Bad Eyes Design & Consulting
July 3, 2010

For the longest time I’ve was advocating against the Portable Document Format (PDF), none of them were accessible to my screen reader so I”Settled” for plain text, to me it was the lesser of evils. At no time did I ever care for the Microsoft Word format, next to an inaccessible PDF it was just as bad.

I wrote recently in an article that I have changed my opinion of PDFs so long as they are fully accessible, something that is easily achievable.

An accessible PDF is much like an accessible web page, I have at my disposable many keyboard commands to navigate my way around depending on my personal preferences, however not all screen reader users navigate in the same way so it is necessary to have as many options as possible, however I have not found this to be the case with the Word document format.

When dealing with a document with a large number of pages, being able to find my way to specific parts in a timely manner is paramount, my time is as valuable as my able-bodied counterpart, muddling through is not an option. Being able to utilize the keyboard commands my screen reader offers is as good as “Equal Access” and again, I have not found this to be the case with the Word document format.

To me this is like having a Wheelchair ramp to a building but no automatic door, no handrails in the washroom, no Audible Fire Alarms, getting into the building might be considered accessible but once inside you’re on your own.

Lately I’ve been doing research on the accessibility of PDFs on Ontario Municipality websites, too many I have found are inaccessible but more concerning is the choice that some are offering, the Word document format. Some choice! I have to choose between an inaccessible PDF or a Word document. How is that Equal Access?

For years we’ve had to endure the PDF documentation when it wasn’t accessible, we were given no alternative formats and now that it can be made accessible we should not have to put up with an inferior alternative.

Some might prefer a Word document, that is there choice, but I have “Settled” for too long now as many others have! I have experienced an accessible PDF and since the Customer Care Standard Section 9, “Format of Documents (” gives me a choice, I choose and Accessible PDF.!

I understand that many screen reader users might not have experienced an accessible PDF so I invite you to check out one for yourself at and use your keyboard commands as you would a web page and accept no substitutes!