PDF accessibility: new guidance issued

  • Author: Access iQ ®
  • Date: 11 Dec 2014

The Australian government has issued updated guidance on the accessibility of the portable document format (PDF) for people with disabilities.

The update, contained within the government’s Web Guide follows the completion of a commissioned review by Vision Australia into the accessibility of the PDF format.

Detailing the findings and subsequent shift on PDF accessibility the Web Guide states that the review found improvement in PC-based compatibility between the Jaws and NVDA screen readers and PDFs.

“However, the Review also determined that the technical support in the mobile environment was insufficient to claim WCAG 2.0 conformance,” the Guide states. “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.

As a result, organisations wishing to provide accessible documents must provide a WCAG2.0 compliant format in addition or instead of any PDF.

“Before publishing content in PDF, agencies should first consider the needs of their users and how they would best/likely consume the information,” the Guide states. “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.”

The Guide recommends that to improve the accessibility of web documents, organisations should:

  • work with properly structured source files
  • avoid scanned PDFs, or at least optimise them for accessibility (e.g. using Optical Character Recognition)
  • apply appropriate WCAG 2.0 techniques
  • provide a HTML landing page that includes key points and a summary or overview of the PDF document