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Who will be first to support reading tagged PDF on mobile devices?

Although PDF technology has enormous potential in mobile devices, tagged PDF is still ignored by screen readers on every mobile platform.
About the author: The PDF Association staff delivers a vendor-neutral platform for PDF’s stakeholders, facilitating the development of open specifications and ISO standards for PDF technology. The staff are located in Germany, the … Read more
PDF Association staff

PDF Association staff
January 6, 2015

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App store icons for PDFMobile devices are taking off worldwide. PDF technology has enormous potential in the mobile device context. The elephant in the room, however, is that although tagged PDF is an essential feature to government and large institutional PDF generators, it just isn't yet supported on any mobile platform.

The major mobile platforms already include capable screen-readers as part of the OS. Accessibility is increasingly commodified for HTML content, but PDF gets little attention, vital though the technology is to business and governments worldwide.

Accessible PDF support on mobile devices would be a potent addition to mobile applications for digital documents, and not just in the relatively limited accessibility marketplace. There's a world of new, and very cool, end-user products awaiting support for tagged PDF on mobile devices.

What sort of products could be developed on the basis that they worked best with PDF files that conformed to PDF/UA? There are many possibilities:

  • Dramatically superior full-text search results
  • High-quality reflow and content extraction. See callas software's PDFgoHTML and SNAB's VIP PDF Reader for demonstrations of such applications
  • Advanced text-to-speech conversion, including synchronized text highlighting
  • A framework for integration with voice-based annotations, digital signatures and more
  • Voice-based navigation
  • Interoperability with publishing or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems
  • And coming soon, support for mapping third-party schemas such as MathML and DAISY to PDF tags

There are concrete consequences for the present-day lack of support. The government of Australia is using this fact to stand by it's earlier decision that PDF was insufficient to meet accessibility needs. In it's most recent update on the matter last November, it said:

...the Review also determined that the technical support in the mobile environment was insufficient to claim WCAG 2.0 conformance. Testing of Voiceover (iOS) and Talkback (Android) did not reveal the semantic information from a tagged PDF and bookmark navigation of the document was not available on mobile platforms.

As a result, PDF does not yet have the required accessibility support to fully claim WCAG 2.0 conformance, so it cannot be solely relied upon for the provision of government information except in limited circumstances.
Australian federal government, November 18, 2014

There's been some level of support for tagged PDF in desktop screen-readers for over 10 years. It's been over six years since publication of ISO 32000, over two years since the publication of ISO 14289 (PDF/UA). While libraries and applications for creating tagged PDF abound, full access to PDF on mobile devices remains unattained, and therefore, so do many other interesting possibilities for features, all enabled by tagged PDF.

Who will be first to deliver accessibility technology for iOS or Android that supports the accessibility model in PDF?

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