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A new online service will supply automatic tagging for PDF documents to make them easier for blind and visually impaired readers to understand.

Open Access, an umbrella group established to help institutions render their websites more accessible to people with disabilities, announced the service last week in Paris at the International Conference on Computers Helping People With Special Needs (ICCHP 2004).

A recent eGovernment Benchmarking Report, compiled by Irish Web firm IQ Content, reveals that many government websites rely too much on PDF format files. This can be problematic for users with disabilities. Also, too few sites offer consistent orientation and navigation.

At present, the provision of tagging functionality ensures that correctly tagged and formatted Adobe PDF (portable document files) documents will adhere to accessibility guidelines. The problem, however, is for institutions to create documents with the correct tags; this is costly and time consuming, requiring software programs and appropriately trained staff.

"These organisations may have thousands of PDFs, which may only need to be updated just once a year," said Charles Pike from Usabledesign.ie, which is part of the Open Access group. "To update them manually at present is a major expense and companies aren't keen."

To address this, Open Access has developed a Web-based service known as "EnablePDF". Organisations upload their PDF documents, which are processed and returned with the relevant accessibility features added. The service will be available online from September; and will "include the production of a full report as to the changes made to the document".

This means that blind and visually-impaired surfers who at present receive screen readers in a "stream of consciousness" format, will be told specifically where to find headers and new paragraphs.

© ENN

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