March 21 2017

Best Practices for PDF ADA Conformance

ADA PDF ConformanceWebsite ADA conformance is an important topic for every website owner. Beginning in 2018, the Department of Justice will be unveiling formal regulations for website accessibility, so that websites are accessible to those with disabilities from blindness to dyslexia to epilepsy. With the uptick in ADA-related lawsuits against non-conformant businesses, proactive website owners are working with their digital agencies to make their websites conformant. Most business owners just think about their web pages, but PDFs are also a requirement for compliance. And while the process is fairly easy, it’s important to follow a series of simple steps to ensure conformance to WCAG level AA standards. Here are best practices when it comes to ADA conformance for PDFs.

Making PDF Content Accessible

PDFs are often a way for website visitors to access informative content about a business or service. Commonly used for brochure downloads or forms, these print friendly documents must present content in a forthright manner. This will not only bring about a positive experience for users with disabilities, but for all users who take advantage of your digital documents. Who doesn’t like being able to download a PDF and find ease in searching for the exact info you need?

  • Create Clear Titles: Straightforward PDF titles are key for achieving clarity in your content. The user is going to first need to find the document on your website. Align the title of the document with the type of information that is included in the PDF file. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this file? What type of information would a customer need from this document? For example, if the document is a business loan application, then a good file title is quite simply Business Loan Application.
  • Optimize Content for Screen Readers: Many users who have visual disabilities will use a screen reader to access the information in a PDF document. Therefore, it’s important to use readable language and steer away from acronyms, symbols or shortcuts. While a screen reader can read those, it may not be clear to the individual listening. After the document is found, the user will need to find the appropriate section within the document to fulfill their needs. Look beyond the title of the document and into the headings. ADA compliance also requires your content to be distinguishable.
  • Define the Language: Another ADA conformance guideline is to define the language of the PDF. This is not a step most PDF authors would routinely take, but is a simple setting change adjustment within each document’s properties.
  • Add ALT Text for Images: Many PDF documents have images but unfortunately a screen reader cannot see an image unless it has descriptive ALT text. If there is an image, figure or diagram in the PDF that contributes meaningful content, then it is important that there is ALT text provided to describe that image or figure.


One of the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines is that a web document must be operable. Part of that guideline involves creating or editing a PDF so that it is navigable.

  • Create clear headings: Help your customers easily navigate the PDF by creating clear headings. PDFs like contracts, handbooks, instructions or legal documents can be long documents. Save your customer some time by including clear headings and sub headings.
  • Ensure headings are logical: Additionally, ensure headings have a logical flow to them. When you sit down at a restaurant you expect to see a menu start with appetizers, entrees and then dessert. Likewise, your PDF should have the same, expected logic.
  • Use bookmarks: Another best practice is to establish bookmarks for page content. Bookmarks make the PDF accessible and allow for easier navigation of the document and give a table of contents for the individual to quickly access the content they are looking for.

Though website ADA compliance has been a hot topic for some time, it’s more important now than ever to ensure that your full website – including PDFs – meet the WCAG 2.0 standards appropriate for your business type. If you are ready to learn more about website conformance contact us to discuss your needs.


  • Website Compliance

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