Adobe announces long-awaited PDF accessibility support on iOS and Android

21st August 2017 | by Ted Page

Logo - Adobe Acrobat ReaderAdobe recently announced the very welcome arrival of much improved, although still somewhat limited, support for accessible PDFs on mobile devices, using the Adobe Acrobat Reader app.

VoiceOver and TalkBack support

The latest versions of both iOS and Android now include basic support for VoiceOver and TalkBack. Both can recognize and navigate structural elements such as headings, paragraphs, links and text alternatives for images, using gestures that will already be familiar to many, such as:

iOS

  • One-finger swipe right/left reads sequentially down/up through page content
  • Two-finger swipe down reads from the current position on the page and navigates to the next page.
  • Two-finger swipe up reads from the top of the current page and navigates to the next page
  • Three-finger swipe left/right to navigate to the next/previous page or one-finger swipe up/down on the page flipper control to go to the next/previous page. 
  • Select the element type (e.g. headings or links) you want to navigate by in the VoiceOver rotor control (two-finger rotate) and then use one-finger swipe down/up to navigate to the next/previous element.

Android

  • Swipe right to move to the next item on the screen
  • Swipe left to move to the previous item on the screen
  • Swipe right then left to move to the next page
  • Swipe left then right to move to the previous page
  • Swipe down then right to open the global context menu to make reading selections such as read from top (to read the entire page).

Limitations

Adobe’s announcement rightly points out that some structural elements, such as lists and tables, will have to wait for further updates before they are properly supported. 

In addition to these, we would also very much like to see as a matter of priority, better bookmark support (bookmark links currently go to the top of the relevant page only and don’t inherit zoom settings). We would also very much like to see support for reflow mode and greater access to typographic style in general (colour customisation, line length, leading, sizing, font, etc).

Conclusion

Despite the above limitations, this is a significant moment in the development of accessible PDFs. It is reminiscent of the day, back in 2005, when I upgraded my version of JAWS 7.0 to version 7.1 to find that headings were now supported in PDFs. Adobe’s recent announcement is, I believe, as much of a landmark.