Accessible PDF Documents

First ask: "Does this really need to be in PDF format?"

PDFs provide a poor user experience for all users:

  • Visitors using mobile devices and screen magnifiers to read PDFs must zoom in and repeatedly scroll horizontally and vertically.
  • PDFs lack navigation showing users the context of what they're reading and how to move through it.
  • Screen readers often produce gibberish or sentence fragments if visual layouts are not tagged to create a logical reading order.
  • PDFs are created with dense text and graphics. These increase file size and download time and can have a huge impact on mobile data plans.
  • Visitors using keyboard and screen readers often have difficulty or are unable to complete PDF forms.

PDF Misconception 

Posting a PDF online is easier and faster than creating a webpage.

Reality: It takes more time to update and handle revisions with a PDF than a webpage. To make simple changes, you have to find the original document or latest version, make changes, and ensure it's accessible. Then you save it as a new PDF, upload it to the web, and confirm that any existing links point to the new document. In contrast, you only have to find a webpage, make changes using the text editor, and publish. 

Posting a PDF

If you must provide content exclusively as a PDF:

  • Follow the 10 Key Factors when creating it. In addition:

    • Use your keyboard to tab through the content to verify it has a logical reading order. Adjust the tab order accordingly.  
    • Ensure that the fonts allow extracting the characters into text.
    • Label the form fields as interactive, and include error messages.
    • Make sure that any security settings do not interfere with screen readers.
    • Create a web page that summarizes the core information and has an option to download the full PDF.
  • Send the document to a remediation service like CommonLook to tag it for screen readers.

Accessible Alternatives

Making PDFs accessible is time-consuming, sometimes hard, and often expensive. You can avoid this expense with several alternatives:

  • Convert the content into webpages.
  • Convert the content into webpages, and provide the PDF as a print-friendly alternative.
  • Provide the PDF, and create an "accessible" alternative web page that is truly equivalent. It must satisfy ADA requirements, including reproductions or text equivalents for images, charts, and graphs.

Some cases do require a PDF, but that doesn't mean that the content should exist only in PDF format.