What Do Accessible PDFs and Forrest Gump Have in Common?

According to Jens Kirkegaard, Forrest Gump was right. Well, right about Accessible PDFs anyway.

Kosmopol, Copenhagen, November 2015. 2 days devoted to Accessible PDFs. Jens’ claim that life = a PDF and chocolates = tags, certainly became apparent.

Over the 2 days, I lived and breathed digital accessibility. Some things I knew, some things I didn’t. Some of my questions were answered, some I still have to research myself. One thing that became clear very early on, is just how important Accessible PDFs are, have been and will be in the future; there is no other format that offers the things that a PDF can.

It is of no coincidence that 3 of the keynote speakers/experts were from Canada. Since 2010, legislation has been in place to ensure that every single Web site and PDF document published MUST conform to WCAG 2 (compliance level AA). And listening to Thorkild Oleson, unless other countries adopt the same stance then accessibility will remain as just an ‘appendix to society’.

The technology and enthusiasm exists to really put digital accessibility on the global spectrum. I heard from a wide range individuals, varying from those dependant on accessible formats just to go about their day to day lives, to digital geniuses with a passionate for developing and promoting awareness of their products, and of the need to provide accessible formats as a standard. However it became apparent that there is a clear lack of training and understanding of what a properly structured and tagged PDF is, and a reluctance within institutions to comply with standards such as PDF/UA – which have been put in place for a reason. The institutional reality is that most employees are not employed to become PDF accessibility experts – ‘I was employed to do MY job.’

I came away from seminar with my head full of thoughts, concerns and certainly an enthusiasm for accessible PDFs. Education and awareness seem to be the way forward in promoting this format. A global/national/international standard, teamed with legislation on compliance would be the only way to force authorities to change the way they produce their information. Sadly this could be some years away. And for people such as Rene Jaun, blind since age 21, accessible formats are a necessity.
Not just ‘nice to have’.

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