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What you absolutely must know about ADA Compliance For PDFs

Updated: Feb 23, 2019

What most people tend to forget is that addressing compliance issues on PDFs is a difficult feat to conquer. It can be quite complicated in some ways, but it does not mean it is undo-able. Hence, it is important that you learn to address a number of possible strategies when it comes to meeting compliance standards in terms of PDFs.


Remember that the complexity of your PDF will help determine the goal of making it compliant. For instance, you made your PDF fairly simple or in a basic form. It is likely for it to be quite easy to become accessible. But if it contains some fonts, objects, or even colors, it will definitely take a lot of time.


Why Use PDFs?


Before you go down into details, you might just be wondering: why PDFs in the first place? The Portable Document Format, or simply known as PDF, was invented specifically to readily share files across any channels (i.e. computer) using any type of operating system (e.g. Windows, Linux, Mac, etc.). The main keyword here is “portable,” which refers to how such file can easily be moved and shared. It is really true. PDFs are a lot easier to move and share for most people.


The drill here is pretty straightforward. Start by saving that Word doc, spreadsheet, or even form and turn it into a PDF file. Once done, you could just upload it so anyone can start reading or downloading it. But just because it is considered portable, let alone easy to share, it does not mean any person could just access whatever content there is.


When Adobe invented the PDF format, which was about 25 years ago, it did not really take into consideration the suggested 20 percent of the total population that has one or even more disability. Most governments across the globe are requiring schools or any educational institutions to cater to those disabilities. How exactly are they doing it? Well, by simply making their site’s content readily accessible. Just like the public areas of any establishments or buildings, websites are also needed to be ADA-compliant.

PDFs, in one way or another, have become a medium that provides an easy way out for every person. Not just school content administrators or managers but everyone in the world who uses it. This is most especially the case with individuals who want to make content as (almost) universally accessible as possible.


What is ADA Compliance?


In its most organic form, ADA compliance refers to how you should make every effort to make education accessible or readily available to those who have disabilities. This includes, but not limited to, people who are blind, deaf, or those with other impairments.


Where to Start


There are common questions involved when it comes to converting website PDFs. What about those files that one really wants to keep? When should one start when it comes to this? Or perhaps, who is going to be responsible? Now that everyone has agreed to make web documents fully accessible, how can things get started?


A better way to understand this is to cite an example, and let’s just say you are working for a school. In order for the school district websites to become fully accessible and, at the same time, 100 percent ADA compliant, every single one of the PDFs must strictly comply with the so-called WCAG 2.0 web accessibility guidelines.


This is even true for school websites that are developed through the use of a CMS or content management system, particularly those that come with built-in ADA-compliance features. It is worth noting that a good number of legacy documents are likely to be not accessible. When this happens, the school’s website will immediately be rendered out of compliance courtesy of the federal school website guidelines and laws.


It cannot be denied that converting most, if not all, PDFs is possible. However, it is really going to take a huge amount of time. There are also different factors that contribute to the process, such as timing, resources, and the number of files that requires converting. Fortunately for you, you have three ways to do this:

  • You can choose to hire the process out, but remember it is going to cost you. In fact, if you search on Google the phrase “website accessibility remediation,” you will be presented with countless pages of businesses lining up to help you convert documents. But hey, they come with a fee. So unless you are willing to take this road, it is better to look at the two other options below.

  • Move forward with a qualified and reliable website service provider. From there, you can just let it handle the heavy lifting. As long as you pick the right provider – especially the one that is specialized to handle school websites – there is no doubt that you can obtain fully accessible and ADA-compliant sites from scratch. Of course, though – the results will depend on them.

  • Just do it on your own, especially since it is quite doable. Start by implementing a school site that has accessibility policy. You can begin by checking the different methods below:

Using Adobe Acrobat Pro


This is without a doubt one of the most common ways to address PDF accessibility. But if using Adobe Acrobat Pro is not possible – or simply the software is not available to you – then better skip ahead. There are alternation options discussed below.


Using The Automated Fixer Tool


Don’t you know that Acrobat Pro includes a nifty tool that will save you a lot of headaches? The tool basically scans the document and tags the different elements it finds. Here is how you can use it:

  1. Go to the Action Wizard, which is the secondary toolbar.

  2. From the Action List, just click the option that says “Make Accessible.”

  3. The action tends to run on the document that is currently opened, and this is by default. This is where you must select “Add Files” so you can choose additional files or folders to run the action on.

  4. Click Start and just follow the prompts in order to complete the process.

While it is true that the automated tool is quite helpful, it does not necessarily solve every issue there is. Once you are done using it, you still need to run an accessibility check that is in the Acrobat Pro. Doing so simply lets you determine if there are underlying issues. Think of the Accessibility Checker as something that is akin to a report card. It does not fix the issues or problems on your behalf, but it is enough to give you concrete knowledge about where you exactly are.


Using The Accessibility Checker

  1. Choose Tools > Accessibility

  2. select “Full Check”.

  3. You will then notice the dialog box that says “Accessibility Checker Options.” By going to the “Report Options” part, you should be able to select how you want to view and/or save the results.

  4. Click “Full Check” again in the secondary toolbar, so you can see the options dialog box once more. From there, just select the number of pages you want to run and check. Note that the tool could face some troubles if you choose to scan various pages at once. So, as much as possible, try not to be greedy in this part.

  5. Choose one or even more of the checking options. Interestingly, you have the ability to select if there are certain aspects of accessibility that you would like to skip. The way they appear in your report totally depends on you.

  6. Select “Start Checking” in order to display the results, which will be presented in the panel located on the left. This will include some ideas that are meant to help you fix issues (if there are).

  7. Remember that a full check will not be able to determine between essential and non-essential content types. In other words, some issues on your report will not necessarily affect the actual readability; hence, they are not treated as high priority.

The 3 PDF Musts


Whether you are converting existing PDFs or creating them from the ground up, it is recommended that you pay utmost attention and adhere to the following set of basics:

  • The document’s underlying structure, which should not totally rely on the content’s visual presentation.

  • The ordering of the content must not only be logical but also consistent all throughout.

  • It must be clear and consistent when it comes to navigation.


Other File Formats


First and foremost, this one here totally depends on the nature of your document. Basically, you might find it more valuable to use other file formats, especially since some of them are a lot easier to convert into accessible files. Let’s say you originally created a document in Word. Instead of using the Acrobat Pro, you chose to make some edits in the said program. Again, this depends on the nature of the document you are using



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