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The Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability

Publication Summary

When the Australian Government released the Website Accessibility National Transition Strategy in June 2010, it noted that “New technology has huge potential to make life better for people with disability, but we need to make sure that it is as easy to use as possible for all members of our community.” Online accessibility depends on the manner in which documents are presented and how they interact with the assistive technologies that are increasingly available.

The Portable Document Format External Site(PDF), first created by Adobe Systems External Site in 1993, now in its ninth version, is very widely used for online documents. While it has wide utility, its suitability for accessibility purposes has been criticised. In 2010, AGIMO, working with Vision AustraliaExternal Site, and with the cooperation of Adobe, undertook a study of the Portable Document Format’s accessibility capabilities. The study’s scope was focussed on PDF and was designed to increase understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

Not surprisingly, the study has found that while accessibility of the Portable Document Format is improving, like most tools, it cannot compensate for poor design. Content authors need to design accessibility into their documents from the outset. The Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy provides the necessary guidance to ensure the needs of all are reflected online.

The study’s main and supplementary reports can be found below. The AGIMO Blog discusses this matter further, however comments are now closed.

PDF Versions

Table of Contents

Supplementary Report

Copyright Notice

ISBN 978-1-921600-57-9
The Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability (Online)

ISBN 978-1-921600-58-6
The Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability: Supplementary Report (Online)

Creative Commons

Creative Commons logo

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the Vision Australia logo, and where otherwise noted, this report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence External Site

The report and its associated Supplementary Report must be attributed as the Australian Government Portable Document Format Accessibility Study.

Use of the Coat of Arms

The terms under which the Coat of Arms can be used are detailed on the It’s an Honour website External Site.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the report are welcome at:

Assistant Secretary
Online Services Branch
Australian Government Information Management Office
Department of Finance and Deregulation
John Gorton Building
King Edward Terrace Parkes ACT 2600


The Australian Government would like to acknowledge Adobe Systems Incorporated, which extended its PDF Test Suite to incorporate the common assistive technologies used in Australia, the results of which are published in this Study. Thanks also to members of the Australian Human Rights Commission who ensured a collaborative process for the finalisation of this Study. Special thanks to Vision Australia’s Online Accessibility Team whose ongoing dedication, both professional and personal, help to make online content available to people with a disability.

Contact for information on this page:

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Last Modified: 28 June, 2011