PDF Accessibility

Over at the recently redesigned A List Apart (which, by the way, is too wide to fit in my browser window), Joe Clark goes through some Facts and Opinions About PDF Accessibility.

Quick summary: Most PDFs on the web should not be PDFs. PDFs can be made accessible, but you need to think about document structure and semantics, just like with HTML.

If you ask me, the most irritating things with PDFs are these:

  1. when they open in a new window
  2. when a plugin that takes half an hour to load displays them in my current tab/browser window

I want them out of my browser and into an application like Preview.

Posted on August 24, 2005 in Accessibility, Quicklinks


  1. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the current Apple PDF plugin. Usually, when I press Command-+, I get bigger text. I don’t get that with the plugin. The plugin also reacts strangely as far as scrolling is concerned.

  2. Be sure to read Tommy Olsson’s comments to put things into perspective.

  3. August 24, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Fran├žois: I haven’t noticed that, but then I really try to avoid having PDFs open in Safari.

    Martin: I’ve read Tommy’s post, and I fully agree with him. Accessibility to me is about all people, not just those that have a disability.

  4. I notice that too Roger, horizontal scrollbar, oh my! Nice looking redesign though.

    I forget offhand how you do it, but you can set Reader to launch as a separate app when visiting PDF files. Doesn’t help a whole lot with the speed however, although it has gotten faster in recent releases. There are some other readers out there, not sure about for Mac though.

  5. In Firefox, go Tools > Options > Downloads > Plugins, and uncheck all of the Acrobat ones - that way it’ll download it rather than open in the browser.

  6. August 25, 2005 by Greg

    The main problem with PDF documents — as I percive it — is not the technology but the author. As always, if the source document lacks a good semantic structure the output, be it PDF or whatever, will lack it as well.

    Most authors simply aren’t aware of structuring a document they produce and/or they don’t know how to do it in the tool they use. In place of headings they use visual formatting.

    In Opera you can change/set default handling for every file type (open, download, use plugin…).

  7. August 25, 2005 by Mats Lindblad

    I don’t like the ALA redesign, mostly because they don’t have any accesskeys defined (i’m a lazy surfer) and their print css doesn’t work in firefox (the content gets pushed to the right on every page).

    As for PDF:s, I use windows and Acrobat is a resource hog so I too try to avoid them.

  8. For Firefox get the PDf Download Extension

  9. Here are some tips how to make acrobat faster.

    Move the plugins


    Acrobat reader speedup


    Hope they help some.

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