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Welcome to the July 2016 issue of the CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter!

Organizations often ensure compliance of PDF Documents because it’s required by law, but this month we examine the first of its kind survey by Karlen Communication, that addresses the issues users experience when faced with inaccessible documents.

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The CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter Team



PDF And The User Experience Survey


An important step in gathering data on the user experience of people with disabilities as they encounter and interact with PDF documents was conducted in November 2015. This was the PDF and the User Experience Survey designed and conducted by Karen McCall, Karlen Communications.
There were a total of 145 completed surveys representing people with a variety of disabilities from many countries such as Canada, the UK, Australia, Belgium, India, the Netherlands, Germany, the Philippines and the United States.
We spoke with Karen about the survey and why it is important to the work we do.
“For years we knew that those of us with disabilities were having serious problems accessing PDF content. Until this survey, we had no real data to point to in order to support what we were constantly hearing anecdotally.”
“One of the things I wanted to find out from the survey was the age of people accessing PDF documents and what they perceive their computer literacy and PDF literacy is. This is important to understanding that the people who are encountering barriers to content are not novice users. They have years of experience in the digital environment and in using adaptive technology.”
49% of respondents are ages 41-60 with 33% of respondents being age 26 to 40.
69% of respondents describe their computer literacy level as advanced. 53% describe their PDF literacy level as advanced with 40% describing their PDF literacy level as intermediate.
“Question 12 asked respondents to check all areas of their lives where they encounter PDF documents. The responses shouldn’t surprise us. We encounter PDF documents in all aspects of our lives from work to education to home to leisure activities.”
Possible Answers Total Percentage
Work.(for a company or organization for which I’m paid) 126 86.9%
Volunteer Work 51 35.2%
Home (for example appliance manuals or recipes) 119 82.1%
school, college or university) 67 46.2%
Education (outside of school, college and university) Lifelong Learning 74 51.0%
Leisure 94 64.8%
Other, please specify 12 8.3%

Additional questions asked of respondents identify the specific types of documents that are in the PDF format.
“One of the things I’m most appreciative of with this survey is the amount of information that people were willing to provide when asked for comments on their frustrations and the things that work for them. Many people took the time to write extensively on their experiences with PDF content.”
“The survey shows that most people are using Windows or Mac/iOS devices and the most used adaptive technology are screen readers, Text-to-Speech tools with the third most used adaptive technology being screen magnification. This does not mean that other adaptive technology is not being used, these are just the most common based on the respondents to the survey.
Here are a sample of responses from the section of the survey asking respondents to identify what works and what is frustrating when accessing PDF documents:
Respondent 4425790423: Sometimes I actually get a properly tagged document and it’s a real pleasure. Kind of like hitting the lottery though because few documents are.
Respondent 4436903260: With EdSharp or Gmail the text sometimes gets interleaved and doesn’t make sense. I think this happens when there are columns. Math still isn’t read correctly, if at all. Sometimes when there is a picture, the text that was inside the picture (I assume) is dropped somewhere on the page at random and makes no sense.
Respondent 442742709: The viewing tools on Mac and iPhone don’t allow to navigate through properly tagged PDF by heading, bookmarks and so on. The structure of the document is not rendered.
Respondent 4437011170 The document is usually not tagged correctly with headings, paragraphs, or tables. The text is either jumbled together as one large word, or reads directly across as one line when it should be in a table.
“When asked about PDF/UA, the international standard for accessible PDF (ISO 14289), while some people knew about the standard, most didn’t know how it would directly affect their ability to access PDF documents. One respondent said that it was a nice idea but too late.”
“I find several things that are critical coming out of the data. First, not enough PDF documents are being tagged and tagged correctly for the amount of PDF documents we encounter on a daily basis in all aspects of our lives. Second, we are not doing a good enough job of recruiting the very population we serve by working to create PDF/UA. Without more active advocacy on our part and without bringing in those of us with disabilities he adoption and implementation of PDF/UA, the accessibility of PDF documents will continue to be hit and miss…and inconsistent from one document to another. Third, PDF/UA has been an international standard since 2012 yet we still have huge gaps in implementing it from those developing PDF viewers/Readers and adaptive technology developers.”
“PDF content is not going away. There is no best format for those of us with disabilities. If content is HTML then it must meet HTML standards/guidelines, if it is EPUB it must meet EPUB standards/guidelines, if it is PDF, it must meet ISO 14289 and we need to develop standards for word processing, presentation and spreadsheet formats. As our Prime Minister stated: It’s 2016!”

The raw data from the survey can be found at





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