PDFs and Web Accessibility
Companies often use PDFs (Portable Document Format) as a way to store and distribute information on their websites. In some cases, an organization may have hundreds, if not thousands, of digital documents on its site that accumulate year after year. In the case of education and finance, our team at TOBEADACOMPLIANT Web Solutions has seen tens of thousands of documents on websites, which is both hard to manage and hard to catalog.
The same is true for Office Documents, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc…
PDFs and Office Documents Need to be ADA Compliant
It’s important to remember that these documents are part of a company’s digital environment and therefore fall under the realm of web accessibility. They, too, need to adhere to accessibility standards, so that the documents can be used and navigated by those people using screen readers and any assistive technology. Unfortunately, when building an accessible website, this step is often missed.
In order for a document to be considered accessible, it must meet certain technical criteria, while also being available for use by people with disabilities, including mobility impairment, blindness, low vision, deafness, hard of hearing or cognitive impairments.
The good news is that PDFs (Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Reader) and Office Documents can be made accessible and easier for people with disabilities to navigate, with the use of assistive technology such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, text-to-speech and others.
Standards have been created to provide easy accessibility for PDFs and other digital files to meet industry standards for web accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 (ISO/IEC 40500:2012) and the PDF/UA (ISO 14289-1) standard cover a wide range of recommendations for making content more accessible to people with disabilities.
By following these guidelines, documents uploaded to your website will be readable by screen readers and a mobile device will be able to properly render and display the document on the smaller screen.
What is a PDF?
A PDF is the basic file format for Adobe Acrobat. These files allow users to send and view documents easily – and outside of the software they with which they were created. For example, not all users have Adobe InDesign on their computers. So if you are looking to share an Adobe InDesign file (perhaps of a graphic or chart), saving the file as a PDF will give any user the chance to utilize it.
PDFs offer a more structured format than most publishing programs and allow for annotations and hypertext links, making it useful for interactive learning. PDFs also allow for a tagging structure to give the reader a simple (and understandable) way to read the document.
How Can I Make My PDF File Accessible?
The first step in making your PDF accessible is to have a clear understanding of what you need that file to do. A PDF can be created in many different ways, using a variety of applications. Luckily, Adobe Acrobat Pro includes several tools to make it easier for writers to evaluate how accessible their resource is and to fix issues to make it more accessible. This is the approach that our team at TOBEADACOMPLIANT uses for PDF accessibility training on a daily basis.
To make a PDF accessible, it’s important to make the native document accessible, even before you export the document to a PDF. For example, if the resource document is created in Microsoft Word, you would want to begin this process in Word by adding in alternative text for images and confirming that there are structured headings and robust data tables with titles.
However, we understand that in some cases, the original document is no longer available. Even though there will be more manual work in this case, it is still possible to make an PDF more accessible without the native file. Our team at TOBEADACOMPLIANT is available to walk you through these steps so that you can perform the work yourself, or we can do the work on your behalf.
What Makes a PDF Accessible?
The experts at TOBEADACOMPLIANT Web solutions can help you ensure all these elements are included in your PDFs that you plan to publish on your website:
Searchable text is key. If a PDF contains pages of text that simply scanned images, it will not be accessible because it will read as a graphic, not text. If a user needs to use assistive technology, these pages and words will not be read.
Fonts with Extractable Characters
All text in an accessible PDF must be written in fonts that are readable by Acrobat. Acrobat extracts characters using code. The best font options include Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Tahoma and Verdana.
Interactive, Clearly Labeled Form Fields, With No Timing and Strong Error Messaging
PDFs may include interactive forms for users to fill out. These must be designed to be easily understood and usable with a screen reader.
Hyperlinks and Navigational Tools
Links, bookmarks and a table of contents are all tools to help your users navigate a document quickly and easily, to avoid reading through the entire document to find the information they need. Users should also be able to use these tools with only their keyboards. Adding this functionality to your PDF will make it easier for people with disabilities.
Proper Security that doesn’t Negatively Affect Assistive Technology
Acrobat’s security settings can be set to protect the document, while also allowing a screen reader the text to text-to-speech or braille.
Tags help screen readers and text-to-speech identify headings, paragraphs, tables and other page elements. Without tags, these tools will not be able to read the page properly.
Text for Non-Text Elements Such as Images, Video, Audio Files
Documents with images and graphics will not be accessible unless they have alternative text. Alternative text is helpful for many users, including those with learning disabilities.
No Reliance on Color, Flashing or Blinking Elements
These elements are not readable and will therefore not convey meaning when accessed by assistive technology. It can also be distracting.
Use significant color contrasting to allow users with visual disabilities to fully see the document.
Including Controls Available for Audio
Users have different levels of hearing, so it’s important to make volume levels adjustable.
When you partner with TOBEADACOMPLIANT Web Solutions, our team of experts can help you as you sift through all your documents, before you add them to your newly improved, accessible website.
To learn more about our services, contact us today.