PDF \”Death Match!\”


Presented at 2:15pm in Standley I Lab on Thursday, November 17, 2016.



  • Karen McCall, Accessible Document Design Consultant and Educator, Karlen Communications
  • Gian Wild, CEO, AccessibilityOz

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format:
  • Expertise Level: Not provided
  • Type of session: General Conference


Two leaders in the field of accessible document design get together to discuss the current state of PDF accessibility. Drawing on experience and data from surveys, including the ongoing survey bye the Australian government and the first iteration of the PDF and the User Experience, we’ll tackle the present and future of PDF accessibility.


Two leaders in the field of accessible document design “face off” in a discussion about the current state of accessibility of PDF documents. On one side is Gian Wild of AccessibilityOz whose position is that PDF documents just “aren’t there” at the moment. Gian supports HTML as a easy and viable file format. She is supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission statement of 2014: “The Commission’s advice, current February 2014, is therefore 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, and which is also equivalent to that obtained from using the document marked up in traditional HTML.” On the “Other side” is Karen McCall, an ardent advocate for PDF/UA and a Canadian delegate to the ISO PDF/UA committee. “PDF is not going away and we need to advocate for the tools to ensure easier conversion to a PDF/UA conforming ecosystem.


  1. Benefits of HTML based content
  2. Benefits of PdF based content
  3. Review of current data on the accesibility of PdF content

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Administrative/Campus Policy, Alternate Format, Assistive Technology, Legal

Speaker Bio(s)

Karen McCall

Karen McCall, M.Ed. has been working in the field of accessible document design since 1999. She began her career in website accessibility and auditing and moved to accessible Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents in 2004. Karen is:

A Canadian delegate of the ISO 14289 or PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) committee and has been for a number of years. A Canadian delegate to the ISO 32000 PDF committee. A Microsoft MVP for Word (Most Valued Professional) since 2009. A Microsoft Accessibility MVP since 2017 when this category of MVP was established.

Karen has written several books on the topic of accessible document design for Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents as well as smaller publications with specific techniques for working with Office applications if you are using adaptive technology and/or the keyboard.

Karen is the president of Karlen Communications.

Gian Wild

Gian has worked in the accessibility industry since 1998 and consulted on the development of the first Level AAA accessible web site in Australia (Disability Information Victoria). Gian Wild spent six years on the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, the W3C Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group and the W3C Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. She spent six years contributing to the development of WCAG2. Gian is often asked to speak at both web and accessibility conferences around the world, including in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. She spoke at the United Nations on the importance of accessibility at the Eighth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.