PDF Accessibility

PDF is rarely chosen because it's been assessed as the best format for the content.Neil King, Vision Australia

PDF at The University of Melbourne

  • PDF is rarely the best format for online content.
  • The preferred format for content at The University of Melbourne is HTML.
  • If PDF's are published, they must be accompanied by an additional accessible format, such as MS Word.

Legal status of PDF documents

"The Commission’s advice, current February 2014, is therefore that PDF cannot be regarded as a sufficiently accessible format to provide a user experience for a person with a disability that is equivalent to that available to a person without a disability, and which is also equivalent to that obtained from using the document marked up in traditional HTML."

"Accordingly, organisations that publish documents only in PDF risk complaint under the DDA unless they make the content available in at least one additional accessible format that disseminates semantic meaning of the document structure, its design and content to mobile users. Additional formats should be published simultaneously with the PDF version, and at least one such format should be downloadable as a single document if the PDF version is available as a single download."

Australian Human Rights Commission

PDF Accessibility Techniques

Making Documents Accessible

  • Vision Australia has created an excellent Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) for Microsoft Word that makes creating accessibaccessible PDFs easy. Document Accessibilty Toolbar - Installation Instructions
  • Whether it be PDF, Word, or HTML the following issues need to be addressed in order to make a document accessible:

    • Use headings. In HTML this means adding heading tags, e.g. <h1> - <h6>. In Word this means using styles, e.g. Heading 1, Heading 2, Normal.
    • Use lists. In HTML this means adding bulleted and numbered lists, e.g. <ul>, <ol>, <li>. In word this means adding bullets and numbering, e.g. Bulleted, Numbered.
    • Present information in a linear format. In HTML this means using <div> tags and CSS to position elements on the page. In Word this means using Columns.
    • Use table headings. In HTML this means adding <th> tags.
    • Provide alt text for images
    • Identify the language of the document
    • Allow text to be resized
    • Use sufficient color contrast
  • W3C PDF techniques
  • Acrobat X has an inbuilt checker which is very useful
  • The PAC PDF accessibility is also very good and is free.
  • A Quick Reference Card for Accessibile PDF Creation can be downloaded form Adobe.

Exporting PDF from Word

  • Using Windows, click on the Acrobat menu and select preferences.
  • Ensure that 'Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF' is checked.
  • Publishing the PDF document needs to be done via the 'Acrobat' menu by clicking on the 'Create PDF' button
  • Documents can also be saved by clicking on 'File' and then 'Save as PDF or XPS'. You will need to click on 'Options' and ensure that 'Document structure tags for accessibility is checked.

Common misunderstandings about PDF

  • Users with vision impairments can't access PDF documents

    Not true. In fact some users with vision impairments actually prefer PDF. The problem is that some users can't access them at all if they are in an inaccessible format. Hence the call for documents to be provided in an alternative accessible format.

  • PDF documents are secure and can't be tampered with

    Anything that is published on the web can be changed, including PDF files. Web sites such as www.pdfunlock.com allow users to remove passwords and restrictions from secured PDF files in seconds. Source documents should be archived locally, not stored on the web.

  • Publishing in PDF document is quicker because you can just convert it from MS Word

    Not true. Publishing PDF documents that do not discriminate against users with disabilities is often more time consuming than creating a HTML document because there are a number of additional steps and checks that need to be undertaken. Very few PDF documents produced at THe University of Melbourne are accessible to users with disabilities.

  • Users who are having problems can just contact us directly

    Users with disabilities will rarely contact publishers about problems that they are having because, like everyone else they have other things to do, and often they don't know where the problem lies, they just know they can't get the information.

See also: PDF Myths.

Practical Exercise