PDF Accessibility Education Sessions for the Australian Government

Accessibility Team - AGIMO
The Department of Finance Archive

The content on this page and other Finance archive pages is provided to assist research and may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. See the full archive disclaimer.


Adobe are running a series of education sessions in Canberra on optimising PDF documents for accessibility. These sessions have been designed specifically for Australian Public Servants (APS). We are very keen to build PDF authoring skills across the APS, so, if you are a member of the APS and are responsible for authoring content or providing public information on Australian Government websites, these sessions are for you.

As government agencies are obliged to make all online information accessible and authors are responsible for ensuring their documents are accessible to everyone, it’s important people understand how to do this properly. Our recent study into the Portable Document Format highlighted the need for better education around the creation of more accessible PDF documents. The sessions will help designers, web developers, and content authors make more accessible PDF documents, and will review the capabilities of PDF authoring tools. Come and listen to Andrew Kirkpatrick, Group Product Manager at Adobe Systems, who will provide you with the most up-to-date information on PDF Accessibility. The education sessions will be run on 2nd and 3rd March at the National Museum of Australia, in Canberra. Register online to secure your place. Update: The slides from the presentations are available on the Web Guide PDF Accessibility page.


Comments on this blog are now closed. Please let us know if you would like to discuss this post or have any general comments.

Comments (17)

Just browsed both slide shows. A quality substitute for those who didn't make it to the presentations.

Thanks Andrew.

Are you likely to run these courses in Sydney at all?

Hi Raven,

This is great. Thanks.

I attended two this morning (one for generalist and one for techies). Both were very good indeed.

Andrew obviously knew his stuff, and he was able to speak well and at a level that members of the audience could appreciate.

I attended the two sessions today and add my praise to Kerry's.

Well worth attending.

We ran two sessions this morning, one for Authors and one for Techos. Both sessions were full, to the point of overflowing and the feedback received from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.

Andrew Kirkpatrick from Adobe took us through some of the key accessibility issues to keep in mind when authoring documents in any format. In the Techno session he also covered a number of points on redacting documents, a popular question given the incoming FOI amendments.

The sessions are well worth attending. We are running two more sessions tomorrow, the Techo session is full but there are still places available for the Author session in the afternoon. If you would like to come please ensure that you register your attendance.

For those that are unable to attend in person, we will make all the presentation information available in the coming weeks from the Web Guide.

Thanks for the sessions yesterday. Two things I was glad to hear:

a) the message about using the right format for content. Too often PDF gets used because its quick and easy for publishers, rather than because it's the right format for users.

b) that WCAG 2.0 techniques for PDF will soon be published.

I had a bunch of questions, but one key one is what you think the effect of publishing the PDF techniques will be on the policy position (Australian government and AHRC) regarding PDF. Will PDF be considered 'accessibility supported' - or are there still significant issues around AT capabilities? Will the requirement to publish in other formats (such as Word, RTF which tend to be what happens, rather than HTML) be dropped? There seemed to be an inference to this effect, but I wanted to get a stronger sense of where (and perhaps when) you see the policy position moving.

I too found the 2-3 March PDF info sessions very helpful. Adobe have done a lot of work in accessibility improvements. Thank you Jacqui and Raven for the hard work you are doing on our behalf and the training sessions you have organised so far. They all add pieces to the jigsaw puzzle.

I came away from the PDF sessions thinking:
1 PDF accessibility is not going to be as difficult as I originally thought - I can see light at the end of the tunnel!
2 Andrew's demo on how a screen reader works made clear the importance of using styles in docs.
3 The W3C WCAG 2.0 Level AA techniques due end of March 2011 will be very helpful.
4 I need more guidance on tagging/layout of complex tables.
5 I need more guidance on alt text for complex tables and charts.
6 I need more guidance on colour contrast. Because we tend to use the standard MS Word colour blocks for text colour and fill colour, it would be good to have a matrix that rates the contrasts of these, for example, does black text with 20% grey background meet the 4.5:1 contrast ratio? Does text size make a difference in contrast ratios? Is there a tool available to do a quick contrast check on a style using built in colours?

No doubt theses issues will be covered in future training sessions/input by others.

Hi there, I was wondering when the slides will be available. Many at work are interested in them.


We are very keen to host similar education workshops for Victorian Government for the VPS - is this possible? Or will Andrew be coming back to Australian some time soon? Please advise.

I agree these were great courses although for some feedback from my developers, it's a mixed bag of feedback. Of course they are excited to see that finally our documents can be accessible.

However, we have thousands of PDF's on our site and the idea of doing all the tagging and background work on PDF's is quite obviously a manual process does seem quite daunting to the majority of our authors and developer's.

I do applaud the training opportunities AGIMO is providing as part of the NTS but with so much work happening in our realm currently the general feel from my staff after attending these training sessions was one of fear ;)

I wish I could have been at the sessions, they sounded great. After speaking to some colleagues who went to the event and from what I heard at the OzeWAI conference last year, it seems that good document structure is the key to making not just PDF but any format more accessible.

Raven, do you know any good references for this? We'll need to implement some good practices for structuring document at the department and would like to know where's the best place to start.

Well done on organising these sessions!

Feedback from the OAIC staff who attended these sessions is that the presenter (Andrew) did a great job and staff came away with practical tips. Our designers are working on incorporating accessibility tips into our internal Style Guide so that the OAIC can implement accessibility early in the authoring process.

We agree that good document structure is the key to making any document accessible, regardless of format, and we look forward to WCAG 2.0 sufficient techniques for PDF being published.

We also look forward to any other training or guidance material AGIMO will be offering in the future. This was a great start, but we all still have a ways to go before we reach AA standards!

So will the slides be available soon?

Hi everyone, Jason Moore from Adobe here.

I must apologise that we haven't got the raw slides, the recorded sessions, or the "cheat sheet" to AGIMO yet (trust me; Raven reminds me regularly!). Andrew (Kirkpatrick) wanted to edit the session recording slightly and make sure the rest of the material is "best foot forward". Unfortunately he has been tied up with a number of other events - but we hope to have everything to you very soon.

Thank you


Thanks to every one who has contributed to this topic, especially those who provided their valuable feedback on the quality of the PDF Accessibility Education Sessions. Events like this with full (or overflowing) attendance, accompanied by good feedback helps us gain support for more centrally organised education.

Adobe has provided a copy of the slide decks they presented during the session. The ‘PDF Accessibility for everyone’ deck covers the content specifically designed for authors. The ‘PDF Accessibility for techo’s deck covers the content tailored to technical people and designers. We are publishing the slides now in multiple formats and will follow up with the full audio version as soon as it arrives from Adobe.

If you did not attend the sessions, I recommend you take a look at both sets and decide which one best suits your needs.

Please pass on the links and use the slides in your agencies to help educate the wider populace of government authors and content writers on how they can improve the accessibility of their documents with a few simple actions.

Although not specifically about the PDF sessions but relating to PDFs and provision of alternate versions on our website.

We recently tasked our Application Support team (IT) with researching tools that could convert a PDF to HTML.

The application chosen to test the process: Solid PDF Converter

Although it’s main promotional point is conversion from PDF to other document file types, it converts to .mht file web pages. Basically, it’s a specific type of html archive called a .MHT file. MHT files contain all the text AND the images in one file that with no images and relative paths to worry about. MHT files just open in Internet Explorer and should be readable by screen readers just like normal webpages.

Further information about the file type was found on Wikipedia:

MHTML, short for MIME HTML, is a web page archive format used to combine resources that are typically represented by external links (such as images, Flash animations, Java applets, audio files) together with HTML code into a single file. The content of an MHTML file is encoded as if it were an HTML e-mail message, using the MIME type multipart/related. The first part of the file is normally encoded HTML; subsequent parts are additional resources identified by their original URLs and encoded in base64. This format is sometimes referred to as MHT, after the suffix .mht given to such files by default when created by Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, or Opera. MHTML is a proposed standard, circulated in a revised edition in 1999 as RFC 2557.

Although I haven’t checked this result, we were advised that our accessibility checker tool (SortSite) didn’t have find any issues when checking against WCAG2 AA levels, which is troubling as the converted webpage, on visual inspection of format and code, was lacking semantic structure and image alt tags.

Are there any other organisations that are looking into similar types of tools?

Last updated: 29 July 2016