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More Accessible: Beyond PDF As We Know It



The Portable Document Format (PDF) has been a ubiquitous method for document sharing due to its universal compatibility to preserve document formatting across different platforms and systems. However, the format has drawbacks and alternatives or improvements to the PDF can offer improved collaboration and accessibility. This informative and instructional program explores the possibilities for enhanced experiences and more inclusive work flows.

Confirmed speakers include Shamsi Brinn, UX Design Manager with of Cornell University and Jonathan Lazar, Executive Director of the Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA) and Professor of Information Studies, University of Maryland. This program is being coordinated under the leadership of NISO Education Committee member, Jamie Lin, who will also serve as the program moderator.

Event Sessions

Shared Resources, Literature, and More!

Shared Resource by Shamsi Brinn

Watch this demonstration by Jonathan Godfrey (Senior Lecturer in Statistics, University of New Zealand) demonstrating the challenges faced as a blind person navigating various document types:

  1. Intro to arXiv’s HTML project, why PDF is hard (2.5 minutes)
  2. Very brief intro to next set of demos (24 seconds)
  3. Demo of navigating a PDF with screen reader. “Reading this article in the form of a PDF is not a good use of my time.” (2.3 minutes)
  4. Same PDF converted to a text file. “I have no ability to engage with the semantic structure. But at least I have the text of the content.” (1.5 minutes)
  5. The same PDF converted into a Word document. “It is better than reading the PDF and the Text file, but only if it works.” (1.2 minutes)
  6. The same paper, now as HTML generated by arXiv. “Extremely helpful for me.” “Reading HTML is a pleasure.” (3.5 minutes)

Additional Resource

LaTeX Markup Best Practices for Successful HTML Papers - From arXiv at Cornell University, to help authors achieve well formatted HTML, and to avoid errors during conversion.

Resources Shared by Attendees

EPUB 3.3 - W3C Recommendation - EPUB® 3 defines a distribution and interchange format for digital publications and documents. The EPUB format provides a means of representing, packaging, and encoding structured and semantically enhanced web content — including HTML, CSS, SVG, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file container.

This specification defines the authoring requirements for EPUB publications and represents the third major revision of the standard.

EPUB Accessibility 1.1 - Conformance and Discoverability Requirements for EPUB publications

JATS4R Accessibility Recommendation for Public Comment - Version 0.1


Jonathan Lazar

Executive Director, Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility and Professor of Information Studies, University of Maryland
University of Maryland

Jamie Lin

LX Designer
Academy for Professional Excellence, SDSU

This event was moderated by Jamie Lin, LX Designer, Academy for Professional Excellence, SDSU.

In anticipation of this event, the following questions were posed to the panel as a basis for discussion…

What has been the historical experience of creating an accessible PDF and accessing a PDF using a screenreader tool?

What prompted the research the Maryland Initiative for Digital Access (MIDA) team has been doing? What are the goals?

The arXiv team has been researching and testing something different - bypassing PDF altogether and ensuring that a web-based document is fully accessible, with a focus on scientific papers that include complex mathematical formulas. What was the motivation for doing this, and what you’ve found through your work?

Describe the accessibility process required for someone who is creating a document.

Is AI compelling accessibility because making a document machine readable is also assisting the accessibility challenge?

How have you been testing the accessibility of the products? What are areas that remain accessibility challenges?

      How important is fixed format for accessibility tools?

What are some shifts in general priority and behavior practices in research  that are impacting accessibility?  For example, how are perceptions around openness of data changing research publication?

What needs to happen to make all research truly accessible?

Is Epub only developed for the publisher end and can it be a more user-end utility like pdf?

Is there concern for future html versions and accessibility for what is being archived in HTML now?  How does the arXiv html ensure perpetual access for citations?

Is the Adobe Acrobat Pro Accessibility checker recommended?

Additional Information

NISO assumes organizations register as a group. The model assumes that an unlimited number of staff will be watching the live broadcast in a single location, but also includes access to an archived recording of the event for those who may have timing conflicts. 

Educational program contacts and registrants receive sign-on instructions via email three business days prior to the virtual event. If you have not received your instructions by the day before an event, please contact NISO headquarters for assistance via email ( 

Registrants for an event may cancel participation and receive a refund (less $30.00) if the notice of cancellation is received at NISO HQ ( one full week prior to the event date. If received less than 7 days before, no refund will be provided. 

Links to the archived recording of the broadcast are distributed to registrants 24-48 business hours following the close of the live event. Access to that recording is intended for internal use of fellow staff at the registrant’s organization or institution. Shared resources are posted to the NISO event page.

Broadcast Platform

NISO uses the Zoom platform for purposes of broadcasting our live events. Zoom provides apps for a variety of computing devices (tablets, laptops, etc.) To view the broadcast, you will need a device that supports the Zoom app. Attendees may also choose to listen just to audio on their phones. Sign-on credentials include the necessary dial-in numbers, if that is your preference. Once notified of their availability, recordings may be downloaded from the Zoom platform to your machine for local viewing.