Hail EPUB and vale PDF

I would like to share some key points about the need to move away from PDFs as a format for providing information in an accessible format .
 

In short

We live in a post PC world and PDFs are not up to standard as an appropriate accessible format that works consistently across both desktop and mobile devices. In fact relying on PDFs puts an organisation at risk.
 

Background

PDFs have been around since 1992. The heritage of this file format is the desktop not mobile devices. Whilst PDFs can be made accessible and can work well in a desktop environment, the  significant lack of mobile screen reader support for PDF means that PDF’s aren’t really accessible on mobile devices.  There is also an all round usability as well as accessibility issue of trying to read PDFs designed for a desktop device on a mobile device.
 
EPUB3 is a free and open e-book standard that is the logical replacement for PDFs as it is the most accessible and flexible format with a wide array of free EPUB readers across all major platforms.  From a technical perspective EPUB 3 is based on the open web platform and HTML5 which is also shared by the DAISY format. EPUBs can also be read offline. Offline formats are vital as one of the biggest equity issues is the cost of and access to cheap internet services particularly in rural areas.

Key Australian Government Advice

  • The Department of Finance and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) consider the lack of accessibility support for PDF in the mobile environment to be a significant issue. In 2013, they reinforced the Government’s existing position that Agencies should publish their documents in HTML, with an accessible PDF optionally provided, except in limited circumstances.
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) current advice, (February 2014), is that PDF cannot be regarded as a sufficiently accessible format to provide a user experience for a person with a disability that is equivalent to that available to a person without a disability. In fact the AHRC’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Advisory Notes highlight that  “…organisations that publish documents only in PDF risk complaint under the DDA unless they make the content available in at least one additional format and in a manner that incorporates principles of accessible document design.”

A way forward

The Australian Government’ s Digital Transformation Office (DTO) has recently released the Digital Service Standards (DSS) which have a strong emphasis on user-centred design and inclusive services. The Standards establish the criteria that all Australian digital government services must meet to ensure they are simpler, faster and easier for everyone to use. The DSS are a more holistic approach to the future of accessibility. Whilst it acknowledges the WCAG 2.0 as a foundation, it encourages a shift away from a ‘checkbox’ approach towards a framework for continuous improvement.

Recommendations

  • All online documents should published in HTML first. The HTML should be HTML 5 compliant capable of operating consistently across desktop and mobile devices.
  • All documents that are published to be downloaded and interacted with offline should be published in the EPUB3 format. 

So hail EPUB and vale PDF!

End note

My preferred EPUB authoring tool is Apple’s free iBooks Author v2.3 which includes includes new EPUB templates. These new templates allow content to be exported to EPUB 3 to create media-rich, reflowable ebooks which can be viewed in any ebook reader that supports EPUB 3.