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PDF accessibility

What is accessibility?

Accessibility means that people with a disability can do what they need to do in a similar amount of time and effort as someone that does not have a disability. It means that people are empowered, can be independent, and will not be frustrated by something that is poorly designed or implemented.

Gov.uk have a blog on Accessibility in Government with lots of useful information for anyone creating digital content. In brief, all content on this website should follow the same 4 principles which are:

  • perceivable, meaning that content should be displayed in a way that is easily navigated by all users on multiple devices
  • operable, meaning that all content should be able to be displayed and interacted with by multiple users on a wide range of devices
  • understandable, meaning that the content and user interface should be presented in a way which is easy to understand and use
  • robust, meaning that all content and controls will work with a wide range of software including assistive technology

To understand more about web accessibility watch this video.

Benefits for everyone

Accessible content is better for everyone:

  • text that has a high colour contrast is easier for everyone to read
  • videos that have subtitles can be watched in a busy office environment, even if you don't have headphones
  • more than half of the people that visit this website do so on a phone or tablet, so it's really important that your information is responsive

Accessibility and PDFs

The EU Digital Accessibility Directive made it law that any PDFs published after 23 September 2018 must be fully accessible. 

Where possible, it's much easier to publish the information as HTML (a web page) than to try and make PDFs accessible. This is what the government recommend:

Why content should be published in HTML and not PDF 

I've been asked to put a PDF online, what should I do?

Ask yourself the following:

Is there a clear customer need for this information?

If not, then don't clutter up your web pages with unnecessary information.

Is the information already online elsewhere?

If so, link to the other source. If PDFs are created by another organisation, it's their responsibility to maintain and make accessible.

Is there a legal reason why the original document needs to be online in this format?
Or is it a scan and you don't have access to the original?

Upload the PDF, but make sure you provide contact details so customers can request help or further information.

What kind of document is it?

Text only

Make it into a web page instead. Contact your web editor or the Web Team. That way we know the information is fully accessible, will respond to different screen sizes and is easy to edit. 

A brochure, report or service plan

Consider if it could be a web page instead. If not, you will need to make the pdf accessible. The Web Team can advise.

A poster or leaflet

If you are promoting a one-off event, a social media campaign or Newsroom post will reach more people. Contact communications. Leaflets are created to be seen on paper. 
Remember: Many people do not have access to a printer.

 A form

Make it into an e-form instead. It will be much easier to analyse the data you collect. Contact the Web Team.

A map or technical drawing

Upload the PDF, but make sure you provide contact details so customers can request help or further information.

How can I tell if my PDF is accessible? 

You can check the accessibility of a PDF online.

This website will produce a report highlighting any issues identified and also provide advice on how to fix them. 

Publishing accessible documents

See advice on how to choose an accessible format and make non-HTML documents meet accessibility standards.

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