Sometimes I think I should be in a field that doesn’t change so rapidly. I used to be able to keep up with the changes in technology, but lately I’ve become overwhelmed and frustrated and sad.
I really believe in what I do — in making web sites accessible. A few years ago it was easier in some ways and harder in others. It was easy in that the main language of the web was simple html and I instructed the coders of the sites I managed to make sure all information was presented in html as well as — or instead of — other formats.
One of the biggest problems then was Portable Document Format or, as it is more commonly known — PDF. Back in 2001 when Section 508 was first enforced PDFs were considered pretty much inaccessible. I even wrote an online and print article on how inaccessible they were in a magazine called First Gov or Fed Web something like that (you’d think I’d remember who published my only published article). I went to seminars to see if I could learn how to make them accessible and learned that the best way at the time was to re-create them as html.
Now it is 2009. Adobe released Acrobat 9 — the premier PDF author. A PDF file created, and often fixed, with Acrobat 9 can be read with a screen reader. I was eventually assigned to to help make the existing as well as new content presented in PDF on a portion of the Head Start Web site accessible. I began a blog about the process and am going to give a talk on this subject in January. Things seemed to be working out with PDF files — and even I believed they could be accessible.
However, as I found out by reading a thread on an accessibility email list, while screen readers can read PDF files ok (if tagged correctly) they might not be able to be easily read by someone with low vision who does not use a screen reader. That the ability to fix problems for these folks with low vision is not even built into PDF files. So, no matter how hard I work to make the files accessible, they will not be accessible to everyone and at some time in the future, when Adobe figures out how to make the fixes, someone — maybe me or maybe someone else — will have to go back and correct all of the PDFs that I’ve already fixed.
This may not seem important or even an issue at all, but perhaps I am a bit of a perfectionist and now I know that what I’m doing cannot be perfect. I’ve slowed down in my work since I read that email — I just can’t bring myself to face these files and these tens of thousands of tags.
I have to keep on reading these emails because this is where I learn. I’m just a little disillusioned at the moment. But I’d better get moving — there is college tuition to pay.