Wrapping PDF inside Flash, the ultimate in inaccessibility

Portable Document Format (PDF) files are often inaccessible. The text you see when the file is displayed is stored as a raster image instead of as machine-readable text. You can’t copy and paste the text, a screen reader can’t audibly speak the text, and you can’t search the text. While a PDF is probably a good way to share a text document when you want to ensure formatting and images remain unmodified by file conversion or different versions of software (I’m thinking about Microsoft Word documents), at least the text document is inherently accessible and will always remain so.

Now there’s a trend online to share PDF files within Adobe Flash viewers. They’re websites like DocStoc, SlideShare and Scribd. Flash is inaccessible – blind and visually impaired people can’t interact with it. It’s really that simple. If you want to share textual information, don’t use Flash, and don’t wrap a PDF in Flash – let people download it and use their preferred viewer, whether it be Apple’s Preview, Adobe Acrobat, or Nitro, Cute or Foxit. Try avoiding PDF altogether; if you can’t read my tips below.

Look at this screenshot of a PDF document inside a DocStoc Flash viewer. The screenshot shows the entire web page – imagine your screen is this tall. Notice how much of the screen space is dedicated to viewing the PDF. Then pay attention to how much space the many ads occupy. Not only is the text inaccessible, you have a poor document viewing experience.
PDF wrapped in Flash

If you’re going to stick with PDF, make sure you use Adobe Acrobat Professional so that you can run an Accessibility Check and make changes to the document. Professional also comes with an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) function that reads images and converts them to text. When people scan documents, they don’t run the OCR function and the scan is only useful for well-sighted people.


3 Responses to “Wrapping PDF inside Flash, the ultimate in inaccessibility”

  1. 1 laynechin October 14, 2010 at 2:52 am

    I prefer something with page-flip effect other than a plain pdf. You may not copy the text of PDF but you do enjoy the pure reading of files.


  2. 2 Daniel Tuff October 31, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    There’s a good open source project for doing this, has some pretty good plugins too:


  1. 1 The Blind Buzz on Accessibility « The Blind Buzz Trackback on February 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm

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