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PDFs are rarely, if ever, accessible by default, and remediating a PDF to be accessible is difficult, time-consuming, and often expensive. Screen reader users often hear gibberish, as fragments of sentences get mashed together when visual layouts are not tagged for reading order. Keyboard users and screen reader users often find PDF forms difficult or impossible to complete, as the visually intuitive layout of the form is often dramatically different from the reading order and tab order.

Even when all the appropriate tagging is used, PDFs are not responsive - zooming in or viewing the PDF with a small screen requires horizontal scrolling back and forth. The best advice for using PDFs accessibly is: Don't (or at least, not on their own).

  1. Make it a webpage instead. If you are using an accessible content management system, creating accessible web content is far easier than creating accessible PDF content. You could create a page on Canvas, WordPress, or even GitHub... The possibilities are limitless.
  2. Make it a Word (or other text) document instead.
  3. Use a PDF for printed handouts, and provide a webpage or non-PDF document as the digital version.
  4. If you must provide a PDF digitally, provide a webpage or non-PDF document as well.
  5. If you must provide content exclusively as a PDF, take this Linked In Learning course for Creating Accessible PDFs or send the PDF to a remediation service (this may get expensive).

The primary advantage for PDFs over other file types is that PDFs are very common and well-known. Some people prefer them for one of the very reasons they are inaccessible, which is the ability to determine exactly the format that others will see (i.e. exactly what text is one which line of which page). If you are gathering content others have created, there is a high probability you will find many PDFs.

A strong argument for providing content in a file alongside a webpage is that many people may not have consistent internet access. If they are able to download a file, they can then continue to view the file even without internet. However, providing an accessible webpage and an inaccessible PDF would still be detrimental to screen reader users without consistent internet access. Therefore, it is still best to provide a more accessible document either in addition to or instead of a PDF.

Other Documents

In general, creating accessible documents relies on the accessibility principles discussed elsewhere in this guide, but implementing these principles may vary based on the document type and editor. See Document Accessibility in the Resources - Special Topics section of this guide for a list of resources with more information.