How to Make PDFs ADA Compliant for Your Website

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PDFs have made the electronic sharing of documents a snap. It’s the most widely used format of electronic document sharing. We can now share any document reliably, independent of software, hardware, or operating system.

PDFs are used on websites for printable or downloadable documents – they can even be fillable forms. They provide important information such as a printable calendar of events to lengthy user manuals. But for those with disabilities, not all PDFs are created equal.

Why should PDFs be ADA compliant?

Two big reasons: it’s the law and it is the right thing to do. Businesses that are state and federally funded must comply with Section 508 and Section 504 and the ADA. “Places of public accommodation” must also be ADA compliant – that means websites, too.  It is estimated at least 38% of web users have disabilities. These can include cognitive, auditory, visual and mobility disabilities. Websites and their features that are not compliant can be viewed as discriminatory.

What is ADA compliance? 

Simply stated, ADA compliance means that you have made every effort to provide access to your information presented on your website, including to those who are visually and audibly impaired.

What makes a PDF ADA compliant?

Some of the features of an ADA compliant PDF include:

  • Tags: Add these when creating the PDF to make it searchable
  • Searchable text: Note that PDFs created by scanning may actually be an image and do not contain searchable text
  • Alt text: Images within the PDF have alternate text that provides a description of the image when a screen reader is used
  • Bookmarks: For documents longer than nine pages
  • Logical reading order (left-to-right) in tables
  • No background images or watermarks
  • Table rows that don’t split across pages

Before creating a PDF

For Word documents, you should verify your document is free of potential ADA problems before converting to a PDF.

Word has a few basic functions to remove a watermark and prevent tables from spilling over across pages. You can review the settings in the Page Layout tabs to remove a watermark. Using the Table tools function, update the row properties to uncheck the option that allows rows to break across pages.

After creation using PDF handlers

Once your PDF has been created, Adobe Acrobat Pro is a resource to make alterations. The Tools section contains most of the tasks needed to make your PDF more accessible. You can enable text recognition and run an accessibility report that provides instructions on fixing problems. Adobe has a comprehensive PDF Accessibility Overview guide as a good reference tool.

Adding tags to your PDF

PDF files should include structure, that is, a set of instructions that define how the content logically fits together (e.g. correct reading order, the presence, and meaning of significant elements such as photos, lists, tables, etc.) In PDFs, the structure is expressed via “tags” which can be automatically generated. Find the Accessibility menu in the tools section and you can then add tags to your untagged document. Be sure to review the results to verify the tagging order of your PDF.

Add alt text to images

Images with alternative text can be read by screen readers and make the document more meaningful. This text gives a brief description of photos, charts, and other graphical images included in the document. For example, “Picture of the mayor of Cedar City riding a unicycle in the Fourth of July parade,” or “graph showing a comparison of new homes built this year vs. five years ago.” While using Acrobat X Pro, find the Tags function by clicking the view menu, show/hide, navigation panels. By using this menu, you can alt text for each image.

Adding bookmarks

If the PDF document contains nine or more pages, bookmarks should be added. Bookmarks allow the reader to quickly navigate to points of interest within a PDF by linking to a specific page and view of that page, just like chapters in a book.

Run accessibility checker

Use the Accessibility Quick Check or Full Check in the Tools section of Adobe X Pro to find potential problems. An accessibility report lists the potential problems and instructions on how to remedy the issues.

PDFs Add Value to Your Website

Including PDFs on your website can increase Google rankings and SEO scores when care is given to many factors, you can also make your site less of an ADA noncompliance risk by paying attention to the compliance issues of those PDFs.

Learn more about ADA compliance for not only PDFs but your entire website today by calling 563-441-1504 or reaching out online.

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