What would it take to get accessible PDFs?


Paizo General Discussion


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Dear Paizo designers,

The two-column layout is a stable of TTRPG publications, but it often makes using a screen reader or extracting text difficult because columns are not consistently recognized by software. here is an example from a recent publication demonstrating this. This is an extremely common issue I've come across, and it's one applicable in all gaming environments.

In addition, the watermark that appears on every page on Paizo PDFs gets picked up by screen readers and text-to-speech programs, but it should be flagged as decorative just like you would a running head in a textbook.

I would love to be able to download simple, one-column, accessible, PDFs. I'm not even disabled, I just want to copy text for handouts or use a text-to-speech program while prepping games. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for those who truly depend on screen readers. Maybe there is some other solution I don't see.

That said, my own experience is that two-column, structured documents are very difficult to create as readers are often inconsistent, and building accessible and structured PDFs takes effort, time, and testing. Things I am sure many users here will inform me that Paizo devs don't have the time or budget for.

However, I wanted to discuss this here and see if others would find value in this.

— Doug


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I use a screen reader to read PDFs while I do the dishes, and I've run across the same issue. Even with messing with the margins, I'll still sometimes get the sidebar navigation. Sometimes, I'll even get locked into that sidebar as it decides to read me EVERY sidebar on EVERY page until I stop it.


Ultimately, they either set up these pdfs to be accessible or they didn't. If they didn't those features are miserably difficult to add in to anything remotely complicated after the fact (everything they publish likely qualifies). But the high consistency of trade dress in their publications means that they should be able to consistently apply accessibility features if they are thinking about them at the outset of the publication design and layout, at least if they're using InDesign, which I would expect.

The watermark may be an exception to that though, as it depends on how it is applied - it may be software or an addon that doesn't allow them to specify that it's decorative text.


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I wonder how viable a plaintext PDF would be.


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I'm not legally blind, but I have a great deal of difficulty seeing print on paper or screens.

Now that screen readers are so commonplace that they're built into browsers, it would be helpful if the screens they're reading actually conveyed the information correctly.

Director of Marketing

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Thank you for your feedback. This is not my area of expertise, but by my understanding we would like our PDFs to be more screen reader friendly. If we knew how to correct it without making a separate product, I think we would. One of the reasons we value our relationship with Demiplane and Pathfinder Nexus is that they create another option.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

I would definitely be curious if anyone has good resources on best practices to make things easier on screen readers in PDFs. The Infinite community could at least keep that kind of thing in mind.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber
Aaron Shanks wrote:
Thank you for your feedback. This is not my area of expertise, but by my understanding we would like our PDFs to be more screen reader friendly. If we knew how to correct it without making a separate product, I think we would. One of the reasons we value our relationship with Demiplane and Pathfinder Nexus is that they create another option.

Honestly at bare minimum if things could be set up so that the watermarks and sidebar navigation aren't constantly picked up, that would be great. I feel that pain even in just normally copy-paste or diff attempts.


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The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) is a real law that applies to every business.

If some other business down the block is wheelchair accessible, that does not relieve you of the need to be accessible too.

You can't say "oh look, our partners are making audio versions"* to handwave your own lack of compliance.

*especially when someone has to pay an additional access fee to use those versions.


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Plaintext PDFs, just the words with no art or layout (beyond basic tabling), are what I've often seen the indie space do.


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Aaron Shanks wrote:
Thank you for your feedback. This is not my area of expertise, but by my understanding we would like our PDFs to be more screen reader friendly. If we knew how to correct it without making a separate product, I think we would. One of the reasons we value our relationship with Demiplane and Pathfinder Nexus is that they create another option.

You've got a number of issues here. I did check the most recent pdf that I had immediate access to (the first volume of the first P2 adventure path, as that's when my subscription ended), and there's no accessibility features there at all.

IF you are using InDesign, then it shouldn't be that difficult to integrate accessibility practices as things move forward for new products. InDesign is pretty good really about providing the tools to do that. But you have to use them. This includes adhering to styles and defining header levels, using the articles panel to help define reading and tagging order, making sure all images that are not decorative have alt tags.

Adding it to old products... now that's hard. Accessibility starts at document creation.

But some of your issues are harder. Font choices, consistent background images that impair visibility and contrast issues are certain to be an issue in places.

When you do something fun like include a scrawled note as a sidebar it can sometimes work for screen reader users, but not for low vision users.

Accessibility in pdfs can get really complicated really fast. The good news is that a lot of technology has caught up to make it possible to make those pdfs more accessible. Again, it returns to considering accessibility at document creation and using those tools.

Acrobat does have an automated checker (it's an available tool you have to add to your panel) - and it's not horrible though it can be tricked so humans should check things too.

Your main difficulty is that the learning curve can be very steep.


I use Adobe CS at work and have always found multi-column tricky; they never seem to come out the way I want even when using consistent styles, like export tags, and content order. It's definitely a fair bit of extra work (and testing).

In lieu of that best-case scenario, a plain text version like keftiu says might be the most viable option.


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Dancing Wind wrote:

The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) is a real law that applies to every business.

If some other business down the block is wheelchair accessible, that does not relieve you of the need to be accessible too.

You can't say "oh look, our partners are making audio versions"* to handwave your own lack of compliance.

*especially when someone has to pay an additional access fee to use those versions.

From everything I have read the ADA doesn't even require you to publish a book in braille or Audio, let alone multiple formats for other needs.

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