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Accessibility information in PDFs


Accessibility information in PDFs

Hi Adepters:

We've received a problem report on our PDF documentation regarding accessibility for visually impaired. We use Arbortext PE 5.2, patch M040, direct-to-PDF. The complaint includes:

The pdf documentation cannot be interpreted by the reader for visual disabled persons (Jaws). The effect is that characters and words are omitted by the reader. We have tried to convert the pdf to word but the converter (acrobat
exchange) changes also characters and words to dots or other unreadable stuff.

I admittedly know nothing about this, so I'm wondering if anyone has run into this or if Arbortext has a solution. Apparently Adobe has this to say when analyzing one of our PDFs:

"The file you sent was not made accessible by the author, who used a tool that does not generate accessibility information in PDF files as do many other tools such as Adobe Acrobat or Adobe FrameMaker. As a result, Adobe Reader needs to guess at what the text of the document is and in what order it appears and since this is handled by a machine there are errors. As we work to improve the algorithm that Reader uses, the results will get better, but it is far better for the author to provide an accessible document rather than forcing Reader to take its best guess."

Any ideas? Is this something Arbortext is aware of or has a solution for?



Have you tried using the Distiller as the PDF generator? This being an Adobe product, may give you better results. Your composition engine server would need Adobe's Distiller (or full Acrobat) installed, and Arbortext told to use it through the Advance Preferences (usedistiller=on).

Hope this helps,


Nothing specific on accessibility, but we had problems with Arbortext's PDF
Direct generated PDFs containing ligatures. For example, at the time,
searching for "flower" would fail because Acrobat Reader couldn't find the
"f" and the "l" sequentially, only the ligature was present and it didn't
satisfy the search result. Maybe Jaws doesn't recognize ligatures (or some
other similarly deceptive presentation vs. information trick).

Can you generate a PDF from your system using Distiller to see if the output
is accessible?

I don't think we want to go back to distiller. As I recall, we'd need a server distiller license, which isn't cheap. As I recall, we had a bunch of problems with Asian languages that only direct-to-PDF solved.

PTC is aware that the PDFs we generate fail the usual accessibility
tests. We have gotten several requests for this enhancement but we have
not scheduled this work yet.

As an alternative for visually impaired users, have you considered also
supplying Help Center based output? Partially because it is browser
based, it is rather more accessible than PDF output.

John Dreystadt
Software Development Director
Arbortext - PTC

Hi David & Paul-

Usually this means it wants a "tagged PDF". This refers to a PDF with
information embedded in the document about the logical flow of text in
the document that screen readers can use to do a better job. Without
tagging, screen readers will do unfortunate things like read page
headers and footers inline, get confused by ligatures, etc. It also
makes it possible for screen readers to correctly deal with
format-intensive documents (with multiple columns, callouts, floated
graphics,etc.). You can find a nice introduction to tagging in PDF
documents at

Digital Media Publisher is now included (as of 5.4) from a licensing
perspective with Publishing Engine. It is a separate download and install,
however. DMP will generate Help Center like output that is distributable as
an image on a CD or you can hang it off of a web server (or your customer
can). Basically it creates web applications you can host in Apache Tomcat.

Clay and Paul,

Thanks for your responses. We also deliver documentation in HTML, but it's also deemed non-accessible as it uses JavaScript for navigation (not sure why that's a problem). I'm sure we could dumb down our HTML and have a separate deliverable for that.

Paul, you can add us to the list of customers who would like this functionality in PDFs.


P.S. I erred in my original e-mail. We're using PE 5.3, patch M040.

Hi David,

I'm just a fellow user ... you should file an enhancement / feature request
with PTC. Assuming you have an ID in the PTC support system, you can do that

Thanks, John!

And I have forwarded this thread on to the Product Management people
here at PTC so they are aware of the issue and that several companies
are effected.

John Dreystadt
Software Development Director
Arbortext - PTC