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.
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.
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:
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.
More information about making PDF documents more accessible is available via the links below.
o PDF Accessibility on Mobile Devices (from SSB Bart Group, 2013)
Last Reviewed: 2014-11-04