People with disabilities, especially those who are blind, rely on assistive technologies to read information on the web. When this information does not conform to accessibility standards, assistive technologies experience significant difficulties trying to interpret it. Journal publishers prefer to publish articles online in the portable document format (PDF), which may pose accessibility challenges when guidelines such as WCAG 2.0 are not adhered to. So far, no studies have been carried out to evaluate the accessibility of published versions of journal articles in PDF format. A total of 200 articles, 50 articles each from Taylor & Francis' Disability & Society, Springer's Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, Hammill Institute on Disabilities/SAGE's Journal of Learning Disabilities and Elsevier's Research in Developmental Disabilities, which are all ISI Web of Science indexed journals published from 2009 to 2013, were analyzed manually, automatically, and with screen readers for accessibility. The results reveal that 97% did not provide an alternative text for images; 95.5% were not tagged; only 13.5% had meaningful titles which were not displayed when the document was opened; 67% did not have a defined document language; 50% bookmarks, which help in navigation; all had accessibility permissions, enabling assistive technologies to interact with them; 99.5% did not have a logical reading order; none had a consistent heading structure; and all, including untagged documents which were not image-only PDFs documents could be read with screen readers such as NVDA if the correct accessibility settings in Adobe Acrobat XI Pro were chosen. Research in Developmental Disabilities documents were generally more accessible.
Nganji, J.T. (2015). The Portable Document Format (PDF) Accessibility Practice of Four Journal Publishers. Library and Information Science Research, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp. 254-262. [Link to article].