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PDF Accessibility Guidelines and Resources

The majority of communications regarding digital accessibility tend to focus on websites only. Too often, it’s overlooked that PDFs  are also required to be accessible. Here are some guidelines to help in the review and remediation of existing documents, along with guidance for ensuring accessibility of PDFs as they are created. 


PDF Maps

  • For larger, more detailed maps:
    • Upgrade to the latest version of ERSI.
    • Use ESRI for all large/detailed maps from departments such as Zoning, GIS, and Public Works.
    • Link to these larger maps in meeting agendas and minutes.
  • Options for simpler maps:
    • Convert to Google Maps whenever possible
    • Keep it as a PDF document but make it accessible by following these steps:
      • Run the PDF map through the Acrobat accessibility checker tool.
      • Address all accessibility issues revealed.
      • Note: This process is more time-consuming as it will involve tagging each of the images or image hot-spots.


Scanned and Inaccessible PDFs

If the PDF document is not accessible (i.e. scanned document), there are a few options for how to deal with it:

  • Convert scanned PDFs to instantly editable text using automatic OCR software in Acrobat Pro.
  • Create an accessible alternative version of the document in one or more of the following formats:
    • Google Maps
    • ESRI GIS
    • Large Print
    • CD
    • Braille
    • Audio
  • List it on the site as a historical document where your users can contact you to get access to it in various forms that can include:
    • Electronic copy
    • Printed copy
    • Reading it aloud for users who are blind
  • Important note: If one of these three options cannot is not possible, then the document should be completely removed from the site to avoid litigation and confusion.


Static and Fillable PDFs

Decide whether the PDF should be:

  • Converted to an online HTML form (recommended)
  • Made to be an accessible PDF

If you decide to convert it to an online HTML form:

  • Create an online HTML form based on the fields in the fillable PDF. If there are any fields that aren’t necessary, remove them.
  • Test the form to make sure that it meets all WCAG Level A/AA standards

If you decide to make it an accessible PDF:

  • Run the fillable PDF through the Acrobat accessibility checker tool
  • Fix all accessibility issues using the Acrobat accessibility checker tool
  • Offer alternative formats. In order to give your users more accessible alternatives, content within PDFs should also be available in the following formats:
    • Google Maps
    • ESRI GIS
    • Large Print
    • CD
    • Braille
    • Audio


When creating new documents

  • Always start from a source document (i.e. Word, Excel).
  • Make the source document accessible by using its accessibility checker tool.
  • Convert the source document to PDF format using the recommended steps.
  • Check the new PDF file with the accessibility checker tool.
  • Address all accessibility issues using the Acrobat accessibility checker tool.

Consider the above guidelines to be a start, and most importantly, a reminder that document accessibility is not an option but a requirement.

For help or further guidance with the full range of your online accessibility issues, Promet Source offers expert, targeted expertise and support. Contact us and let us know how we can help with ensuring the accessibility of your digital assets.


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