PDF Documents

PDFs are the most challenging file formats for accessibility.  Below is guidance on how to create, remediate and select alternative formats that are more accessible than a PDF.

Creating an Accessible PDF

PDFs are challenging to remediate for accessibility; hence it is particularly important to incorporate accessibility principles into the process of creating a document.  If you create an accessible document in Microsoft Word and export the content to a PDF document, the accessibility features should carry forward to in the PDF.

Remediating a PDF

Remediating is the process of “tagging” digital elements of PDF documents so that they can be read using assistive technology. These “Tags” identify the elements and inform the assistive technology about the order in which they are meant to be read like Headings and Column order.  If you have a PDF that you did not create, but want to share with others, it will likely need to be remediated to make sure it is accessible. 

Accessibility Resources can provide faculty and staff access to Equidox, a PDF remediation software. Contact the Digital and Communication Access Services team at DigitalAccess@uc.edu for more information on how to access this tool.  

If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, you can use tools like the Accessibility Check to create and verify PDF accessibility. Acrobat Pro provides tools that identifies and provides guidance on how to make your PDF accessible. 

Selecting Alternative Formats

Whenever possible PDF content should be developed into web content or placed natively into a learning management/content management systems such as Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) or Canvas. There are numerous benefits to creating content natively into web formats such as:
  • Living Content: When a PDF is uploaded to the internet it is permanent. Once downloaded by a client or user it cannot be recalled or altered in any way. If the content changes in anyway, it must be removed from the website and replaced with an updated version, which must also be remediated for accessibility. Native web content is living and can be altered or changed at any time by the content creator without worrying about uploading content or having misinformation circulating.
  • Mobile Responsiveness: Many people use their phones to view web content and PDF documents cannot respond to mobile environments. Native web content living inside Canvas or a UC website responds well to mobile platforms, can be effectively zoomed, and the user can increase contrast or alter the text to make it more readable on any platform. 
  • Ease of Accessibility: While PDFs are difficult to make accessible, content generated within UC websites and Canvas are difficult to make inaccessible. Tools are available the text editor that help a user make the content accessible before it is published. For example, tables created in PDF format are challenging be made accessible, while tables created in AEM will always be accessible, without additional effort or consideration from the content creator.
  • Forms: Forms in PDF are notoriously difficult to be made accessible. There are a number of accessible form solutions available to content creators at UC for use on the web that require little extra accessibility consideration from the content creator.