Accessibility standards ensure that everyone can effectively use the materials you make available regardless of any situational, temporary, or permanent disabilities.
High contrast between text and background helps someone with fading eyesight read... but it also helps someone with perfect vision trying to read in bright sunlight.
Navigating websites without a mouse is necessary for a person with mobility impairments... but is also important to the person holding an infant in one arm.
Transcripts or closed captioning are necessary for a deaf person…but they're also useful for the person on public transportation not wanting to disturb fellow passengers.
Using PDFs for document distribution is strongly discouraged.
Instead, content can just as easily be distributed as documents, or, even better, web pages that would be far easier to use, distribute, and make accessible.
PDFs are discouraged because:
- They don't adjust to different screen sizes and may force users to awkwardly zoom in.
- They work differently on different devices. They don’t always load automatically and users have to search for the download.
- They don’t allow for good measurement of effectiveness. There is no way to measure views of the downloaded file, and it’s impossible to know how users may have interacted with a PDF—for example how long they’ve used it or what links they’ve followed.
- They can be hard for some users to access. A PDF’s accessibility relies on its initial creation, including logical document structures, proper tagging and use of headings, alternative text for images and figures, and acceptable color contrast. This is a time-consuming process to do properly, and takes practice.
- They’re rarely up to date as PDFs are difficult to maintain after publication. This leads to broken links, incorrect information, and confusion.
- Finally, a downloaded PDF can be shared and redistributed as a source of truth, even though its information may have changed. Rather, that information should be on the website where it's easy to update.
If you suspect you may be starting or working on a project that may use PDFs, please contact us ASAP to ensure the most effective means of distributing content.
Remediating PDF's for accessibility
Remediating PDFs for accessibility can be an extremely time consuming task. Consider whether the content you are trying to make accessible must really be in the form of a PDF before you begin. For example, if you are trying to remediate a document that was originally created in InDesign and intended for print, perhaps creating a web page that contains the same information along with a link to the printable PDF might be a better option.
Accessibility links and references
- Accessible PDF's
- Visit ITS's Answers page to view any or all of their listed videos on using Adobe Acrobat with accessibility in mind.
- Guides for creating accessible content:
- Specific policies and guidelines:
- Syracuse University's Information and Communication Technology Accessibility Policy
- The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- American with Disabilities Act (ADA)