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How to Make Your Website PDFs Accessible
Stephanie Griffin

Since beginning our partnership with AudioEye earlier this year, we've been able to offer the latest best practices schools can follow to assure their websites are ADA compliant and accessible. Our Website Accessibility Webinar Series continued this month as Taylor Bodnar, Sr. UI/UX Designer at AudioEye, and Maxie Adler, Lead Customer Experience Manager at AudioEye, shared how to make your school's website PDFs accessible for all users.

AudioEye PDF Accessibility on iPad

ADA 101 and the Importance of Digital Accessibility

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) began in the 1960s from the Civil Rights Movement, where individuals advocated for millions of Americans and individuals around the world for equal access both in the physical and digital world. It was important to make the world more inclusive and guarantee these rights for individuals under the law, and in today's digital age, it continues to make an impact when individuals access the Internet.

Accessibility isn't a law; it is a human right. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure your website and its content are ADA-compliant and accessible. PDFs — one of the most commonly used pieces of content on district websites — are currently causing some of the biggest issues for schools looking to make their sites compliant, as there is no real "easy way" to fix them.

What Makes a PDF Accessible (or Inaccessible)

By definition, PDFs (Portable Document Format) capture all the elements of a printed document as an electronic image. Whether they are being used on your website or being sent out in an email newsletter, it is essential that they are accessible.

The simplest way to think about it, is to create a similar structure for the content in a PDF as you would a website to ensure accessibility. Think the standards — photo ALT text, H1 tags, accessible links, etc. User needs to be able to access digital content with whatever methods they may need to use, such as screen readers, tools to zoom in on text, etc.

The following criteria may be what makes your PDF inaccessible to these individuals and devices:

  • When the structure behind the content does not follow content standards (such as using H1s to note a header)
  • When you save an image as a PDF (even if there is text in the image)
  • When the PDF is actually a scanned document, as it will be difficult for any device to transcribe
  • When it's an untagged PDF - tags are the basis of an accessible PDF file. They indicate the structure of the document, communicate the order in which the items should be read, and determine exactly which items will be read

Since keeping PDFs accessible can take some time, there should be a process in place to ensure an inaccessible document doesn't end up on your website.

We recommend having a single individual or team of individuals executing the following process:

  1. The PDF is created (in InDesign, Word, or another document — but NOT scanned)
  2. The PDF is checked for accessibility
  3. The PDF is exported with accessibility requirements met
  4. The PDF is uploaded to your website

Creating Content with Accessibility in Mind

Using a similar approach to how you would build and maintain an ADA-compliant website, there are key factors to consider when creating the content with accessibility in mind. Making PDFs accessible can be done with these basic instructions.


FREE WHITEPAPER

Learn how to make your website PDFs accessible with this step-by-step guide.

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ORGANIZATION: It is important to write content clearly and simply, as well as organize it logically. You want the reader to be able to understand the content as it is being presented.

IMAGES: With images, alternative text (ALT text) needs to be added to each image so an individual who cannot see the image can understand what is happening. You can also add long descriptions to explain this as well. It is recommended that you avoid using images of text in your PDFs as screen readers wouldn't be able to translate the image to all users.

COLOR: For color, you need to ensure you're using a proper color contrast and not depend on color alone to convey your meaning.

LINKS: It is also common in PDFs to include links to other resources. In this case, you need to include descriptive, meaningful text for the link so individuals understands where the link will take them. You should avoid using "learn more" or "click here" as those are very broad phrases.

Regardless of what program you use to put together the content, remember to export your document as a PDF.

Checking PDFs for Accessibility

Once you export the document as a PDF, you can select the Accessibility tool in Adobe Acrobat Pro to run a full accessibility check. This will bring up a menu on the right side of the program that will help you do a full check of the document to assure a screen reader would be able to access the content.

Accessibility Tool

After running a Full Check, the results, which appear on the left side, will help you determine the accessibility foundation of the document. For instance, it will check if it is a scanned document and review the tag structure to determine if the content can be read by a screen reader.

Some other elements of the PDF that are checked using this tool include:

  • Page Content
  • Forms
  • Alternate Text
  • Tables
  • Lists
  • Headings

These tools are automatic and help save you time when creating accessible PDFs. Some manual steps you may have to do during this process include:

  • Adding document properties
  • Creating or modifying tags in the document
  • Adding or correcting ALT text
  • Reviewing the reading order to assure it makes sense logically

Once you address any errors in the document, you are able to run the full check again to assure you have resolved these errors and have assured your PDF is fully accessible. From there, you can re-save the document so it is ready to be shared out.


FREE WHITEPAPER

Learn how to make your website PDFs accessible with this step-by-step guide

Get My Copy

Accessibility Resources Schools Can Use

Finalsite and AudioEye continue to work together to help schools become more active when it comes to ADA compliance and accessibility. Your PDFs, school website, and content are the kinds of digital forms that should be accessible for any user. If your school is just beginning its website accessibility journey, download your copy of our free e-book Website Accessibility Basics to understand why this is so important for schools today.

Since the deadline for all websites is almost here, you can also review this accessibility timeline to assure your website meets compliance by January of next year. For more assistance with this, you can also request a free accessibility audit for your school website to see how AudioEye can help. Additional resources may be found on our School Website Accessibility page.


PDFs Accessible On-Demand Webinar
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Griffin

Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.


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