March 1, 2013 23

An accessibility expert pointed out the other day that VoiceOver, Apple’s screen reader for MacOS, doesn’t understand tagged PDF, and therefore doesn’t support accessibility in this extremely common electronic document format.

He’s right. Since there aren’t any screen reader options for the Mac that understand PDF tags, it’s fair to say that AT users on a Mac don’t have the same access to content as do Windows users.

Clearly, this is a problem. The interesting question: is it a PDF problem, or an Apple problem?

One way to answer this question is to simply compare Apple with NV Access, the non-profit developer of NVDA, a screen reader that does a great job with tagged PDF.

 AppleNV Access
Employees72,800 (2012)2
Sighted employeesYesNo
Revenue$156.5 billion (2012)Donations
Screen reader softwareVoiceOverNVDA
Operating SystemMacOS onlyWindows only
Software costComes with MacOSFree
Supports accessible PDFNoYes

If PDF files aren’t “accessibility supported” on MacOS it’s simply because Apple chooses this state of affairs.

Given that 80% of non HTML electronic documents are in PDF format, Apple’s choice is difficult to understand.

I love Apple hardware, but I’m deeply unimpressed that the sometime most valuable company in the world is so blinded by the “not invented here” syndrome that it prefers not to make the modest investment required to make PDF files accessible with its otherwise excellent screen reading software.