Post was first published on Media Access Australia’s AccessIQ
There’s been a lot of talk lately, in technology circles, about what’s in store for PDFs. For organisations that are looking for ways to ensure on-demand accessibility for high volumes of PDFs created at the enterprise IT infrastructure level—this is a particularly relevant question.
With that in mind, I wanted to address it here, and offer my own two cents on what I think is going to happen with PDFs—and, specifically, accessible PDFs.
The end of the PDF?
The debate comes down to this: is the PDF being replaced by HTML and XML formats? Many feel that it should be, arguing that HTML and XML simply offer a better user experience, and are easier to make accessible, with a tagged structure inherently compatible to screen reader technology for the blind. From my perspective, though, PDFs aren’t going anywhere—for several different reasons.
First of all, Adobe has invested a lot at the code level for creating better PDFs, including the PDF/UA format, a universally accessible PDF format meant to help PDFs more easily meet accessibility standards and requirements.
And companies, as well, have invested heavily in PDF technology, because most organisations still utilise PDFs—in fact, it’s still the de facto standard for communicating information in a format that’s viewable to most readers.
A trusted technology
Even for those companies who may be using HTML for some uses, there still exists a need for PDFs. Take a bank, for instance. Banks regularly offer their banking information in rich HTML on their online portals, for an informative, user-friendly experience. Most customers wouldn’t think of searching out a PDF in lieu of that experience—at least not for their everyday banking.
Most financial institutions have invested heavily in creating an IT architecture that allows massive amounts of data to be funneled through different types of processes and applications to be converted to both a print file—that goes to the printer and results in the paper statement some still receive via snail mail—and a PDF file, the de facto standard for online presentment.
But banks also have a legal obligation, as do other industries: they must meet regulatory compliance standards that often require the PDF format they output be the official record on file. So even if that bank is offering statement summary information through HTML, they still have an archive of PDF records.
And when individual clients need documentation, for instance, to prove creditworthiness for a mortgage or a loan, HTML won’t cut it—they need the official PDF documentation for those purposes as well.
From an accessibility standpoint, HTML does have the advantage that covers all scenarios. Tag structure is inherent to HTML, so accessibility can be built in during design. PDFs, on the other hand, often need the tags added, since many are simply output as image-only PDFs.
But technology is now available that can automate the accessibility of these PDFs, making communications created in high volumes at the enterprise IT level, like bank statements, medical notices, bills, etc. completely accessible on-demand, at the same time for all customers—with and without disabilities.
And that’s important. Having full, independent access to information, especially critical financial and health information and documentation, is something no one should have to wait for since technology is available to make it happen. Because even with the growing use of HTML, I don’t think PDFs are going anywhere.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org