What Is an Accessible PDF?

Ensure Every Client, Investor, Employee and Prospect Can Access Your Documents

Many of us fail to consider the visually-impaired browsing experience. It’s a greatly underestimated area — as many as 20% of internet users have some form of visual impairment. 1 in 3 adults will experience blindness or partial sight as they age.

If your documents are inaccessible on the web, you’re losing business and credibility.


The Benefit of Accessible PDFs

What’s the advantage of accessible PDFs? Quite simply, they allow users of adaptive technology to comprehend and navigate content. Without this functionality, adaptive technology may interpret the document in the wrong order, without important graphics, or in a format too jumbled for the user to comprehend.

All formatting ensures information is presented the way the author intended. Here are some of the requirements of remediation:

  • Tags and tabbing order determine the correct reading order
  • Table of Contents and Bookmarks allow the user to access content they really need
  • Descriptive text (ALT-Text) for images and graphics ensure all users understand the message
  • Forms are electronically fillable while using adaptive technologies, allowing all users to independently complete them
  • Colour contrast and font size guidelines ensure readers with low vision can see all content
The Accessible PDF Process

Step 1

Get a Quote

We work with you to find cost-effective solutions.

Step 2

Send Your Documents

Email us your PDFs – it’s as simple as that.

Step 3

Advanced Coding

PDFs are reworked to become accessible and interactive with assistive technologies.

Step 4


We’ll send back compliant, highly-usable PDFs ready to go.

When you receive a document back from Accessibil-IT, it will retain its original look. However, we will have added:

  • An invisible layer of instructions to guide adaptive technologies through your document. Instructions in ‘accessibility terms’ include:
    • Semantic markup (commonly referred to as “Tags”) which includes:
      • Headings
      • Paragraphs
      • Lists
      • Proper mark up of table data, column headings and row headings
      • Formulas
      • Links
      • Bookmarks
      • Table of Contents which link to the correct pages
      • Identification of Headers and Footers
  • Descriptive text for graphics, images and charts
  • Form fields which are fillable for all users, and will have field instructions for how the field is to be completed
  • Colour contrast and font size that meets minimum requirements

There’s No Easy Button

There are no shortcuts. To make a document or form fully accessible and compliant, manual effort is required. Clicking a button to “add tags” won’t do the job. Further, automated tagging approaches are not able to properly recognize how your document should be read – or what the appropriate alt-text should be for your images.

If you have made an investment in design which is more creative than a straight memo format, the tags and alt-text need to be well thought out to guide adaptive technology through the correct order of the document or form, and convey the information the way the author intended it.

How Are PDFs Different from HTML?

Programming a PDF to convert it to an accessible format requires a different ‘language’ than HTML. Think apples to oranges – organizations can’t expect their in-house web developers to be able to code accessible PDFs.

Curious as to why PDFs are the preferred format for distributing information? Here’s Adobe’s explanation of the benefits of using PDFs.

Cost Benefits of PDFs vs. HTML

It’s possible to create an accessible HMTL version of your document, but the recoding time (and the hours billed by a web developer) causes businesses to stop short. Typically, converting HTML costs at least 4x more than creating an accessible PDF!

How Are Accessible PDFs Tested?

Accessible PDFs are tested using a combination of automated testing tools and manual procedures. The automated tool PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC) is widely used by organizations around the Globe. The results of any automated tool must be checked manually to determine if warnings or failures are accurate or if they are false.

We advocate additional testing through screen readers commonly in use today, such as JAWS or NVDA, to ensure the user experience is optimal.

What the Experts Know

Accessible PDF expertise is learned with a combination of sufficient technical training and hands-on experience.
Training takes time; an investment must be made to understand all accessibility requirements, how to use available tools, and how to address challenges that are invariably encountered.

What Criteria Must an Accessible PDF Meet?

Accessibil-IT uses a thorough checklist based on PDF/UA and WCAG 2.0 AA requirements. We use this checklist for every document to be sure we provide our clients with compliant PDFs. The summary attached outlines the primary items on our checklist, the purpose of the item and the value to the end user. Download checklist