March 19, 2013

Better, but…


Roughly 3 years ago (late April, 2010) I wrote a Rant entitled A Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary where I got all hissy about the fact that the transcripts of the invited experts to the Hearing on Achieving the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the Digital Age were posted in inaccessible PDF files: big giant pictures (the most evil of PDFs)! The experts included Hon. Samuel R. Bagenstos (Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice), Mark D, Richert, Esq. (Director, Public Policy – American Foundation for the Blind), Judy Brewer (Director, Web Accessibility Initiative – World Wide Web Consortium), Steven I. Jacobs (President – IDEAL Group, Inc.) and Daniel F. Goldstein (Partner – Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP). I got all righteous and took it upon myself to convert those PDFs to HTML and mirrored them from my site, freely knowing that I might just get into a bit of trouble over that decision. I never heard a word, and after a while life moved on.

Collage: PDF and MS Word Icons3 years later I was looking for something for a colleague of mine, and happened to return to the web-site that contained those initially offending PDFs. To my surprise, the PDFs HAD been removed, replaced instead with MS Word Docs! I’m not really sure exactly how I feel about this: on one hand, at least it is digitized text (versus those gawd-awful images of 2010), and, for the most part the .DOC file format is pretty easy to open today – on most systems and platforms. Still and all, what about HTML guys? I mean, is it really that hard to take a Word Doc and mark it up as HTML?

So I pose the question: is this acceptable? I really am curious to know other’s thoughts, so please feel free to comment here, or hit me at twitter and let me know.

  1. #1 by Dave Pawson on March 20, 2013 - 12:38 am

    Yes, I find it objectionable. Should I have to pay to read .gov content? At least I can read PDF freely. Wrangle it via Open Office? Why?
    HTML is the simpler answer.
    Your initial reaction was right IMHO

    • #2 by John on March 20, 2013 - 11:49 am

      Interestingly enough, the original PDFs still exist. They don’t seem to be linked from the .gov sight, but if you go to my original post, follow the links to the HTML transcriptions I made, there are links there to the originals – I tested them and they are still “alive”.

      Go figure…

  2. #3 by nenanell on March 21, 2013 - 2:32 pm

    So relevant today, as I was asked to do some accessibility testing on site PDFs. Thanks for bringing up the subject again.

    Word, with all its proprietary styles? Bleh …

  3. #4 by Cliff on March 22, 2013 - 8:42 pm

    John, I hate to bust the balloon, but the Word files are just a step above text files. The only structure in them is the occasional bulleted list. (In spite of its size and boldness, everything that looks like a heading is still in Word’s Normal style.)

    And the PDF of the committee hearing? It isn’t all scanned any more… but the testimony of each witness is an image pasted into the PDF.

    So although both Acrobat and Microsoft offer free readers, why should I have to get both of them just to read the whole proceedings? And why should I have to bounce from one document to another and back to get the whole story?

    You know, the minimal structure in the Word files almost makes one think that the content might have been scraped with a copy and paste from, oh, I don’t know, maybe an HTML page. Hmmm… where might they have found that?

  4. #5 by google.com/accounts/o8… on June 25, 2013 - 9:02 pm

    One reason the Canadian Government is considering dropping PDF entirely. It’s mostly moving towards HTML only with https://github.com/wet-boew/wet-boew

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