PDF Accessibility

The following information provides guidance on the publication of accessible PDF files. 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.

Presently, 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.

An alternative WCAG 2.0 compliant format must therefore be provided with all PDF documents.

In certain circumstances PDFs could be considered accessible or even 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)

In these cases a well prepared PDF could be an acceptable document format.

Accessibility conformance

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 will 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

Finally, to improve the availability of government information delivered through PDF, AGIMO encourages agencies to provide an alternative means of accessing the information such as:

  • hard copy on demand
  • provision of contact details supported by a process that delivers a timely response and a satisfactory conclusion.

It is mandatory that all information falling within the ‘minimum content requirements’ are provided in HTML.

Improving accessibility

More information about making PDF documents more accessible is available via the links below. The PDF accessibility slides and associated alternative formats are from the information sessions in March 2011 and are copyrighted to Adobe Systems and reproduced here with permission.

Last Reviewed: 2011-04-01