PDF Accessibility

The following information provides guidance on the publication of accessible PDF files for the Australian Government. Agencies are encouraged to review this advice to better inform themselves about the accessibility capabilities of PDF.

Accessibility conformance

It is now commonly accepted, that with the release of PDF Universal Accessibility Standard (ISO 14289) and the development of specific techniques for compliance with WCAG 2.0, a PDF document can be created as accessible.

However, for PDF to be recognised as a WCAG 2.0 compliant format, it must satisfy W3C’s ‘accessibility supported’ requirements, including support in the mobile environment where Jaws and NVDA are not available.

The Department of Finance commissioned Vision Australia to conduct a review of the technical capability of PDF to meet all the WCAG 2.0 conformance requirements, necessary for Agencies to fulfil their obligations under the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS).

The ‘2013 Review of the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for People with a Disability’ report (the Review)  noted considerable improvement in the desktop/PC environment, with both the “Jaws” and “NVDA” products able to comply with WCAG 2.0 based on an evaluation of the PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0. The Review thus found the PC or desktop environment provided ‘sufficient’ support for PDF.

However, the Review also determined that the technical support in the mobile environment was insufficient to claim WCAG 2.0 conformance. Testing of Voiceover (iOS) and Talkback (Android) did not reveal the semantic information from a tagged PDF and bookmark navigation of the document was not available on mobile platforms.

As a result, PDF does not yet have the required accessibility support to fully claim WCAG 2.0 conformance, so it cannot be solely relied upon for the provision of government information except in limited circumstances.

An alternative WCAG2.0 compliant format must therefore be provided with all PDF documents, to claim conformance.

Note: In limited circumstances PDFs can be WCAG 2.0 compliant when PDF Techniques and General Techniques are utilised and the usage situation is conducive to Accessibility Support; for example:

  • an Intranet where the organisation provides a standard operating environment for PCs that delivers a suitable accessibility supported platform
  • a report where there is a reasonable expectation that its readers  would consume the information from a desk based environment, rather than via a mobile device (for example a detailed reference document)

Publishing Considerations

Before publishing content in PDF, agencies should first consider the needs of their users and how they would best/likely consume the information. Consideration of how the information is likely to be read, either online or offline, whether interactivity is required, methods for download, or a combination; this should then inform whether the primary document format could be PDF.  If so, agencies should:

  • work with properly structured source files
  • avoid scanned PDFs, or at least optimise them for accessibility (e.g. using Optical Character Recognition)
  • apply appropriate WCAG 2.0 techniques
  • provide a HTML landing page that includes key points and a summary or overview of the PDF document


Finance further encourages agencies to provide an alternative means of accessing the information by providing contact details supported by a process that delivers a timely response and a satisfactory outcome.

PDF accessibility resources

More information about making PDF documents more accessible is available via the links below.

    • Adobe information sessions 2011 (copyright to Adobe Systems, reproduced with permission)

o   PDF Accessibility for Everyone

    o   PDF Accessibility for Techo’s

WCAG 2.0 techniques for PDF

o   WCAG 2.0 general techniques

o   How to Meet WCAG 2.0

      • Adobe resources


Adobe Blog on WCAG 2.0 techniques for PDF

o   Adobe Blog on PDF/UA

o   Acrobat accessibility training resources

o   InDesign accessibility training resources

    • PDF Accessibility Checking Tools (none specifically endorsed)

o   Adobe:


o   Access-for-All: PAC (PDF Accessibility Checker)

o   Netcentric: CommonLook® PDF – check and remediate

o   Tingtun: PDF Accessibility Checker

      • Consideration of PDF accessibility on mobile devices


2013 Review of the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for People with a Disability

      (prepared by Vision Australia, 2013)

o   PDF Accessibility on Mobile Devices (from SSB Bart Group, 2013)

      • ISO 14289 (PDF/Universal Accessibility)


PDF/UA in a nutshell

Last Reviewed: 2014-11-04