January: What's the deal with PDFs?

What is a PDF?

A PDF is a Portable Document Format and is a data type for sharing print resources. PDFs are very common in academia and are used to preserve a specific visual format of a word document or other file. 

Pertaining to accessibility, PDFs can be challenging to design in an accessible manner. Furthermore, the remediation process for old PDF files can be very time-consuming. When PDFs aren’t made to be accessible, users with low vision or other impairments will have a difficult time with navigation, alt-text, and structure in a non-remediated document.

When should I use a PDF?

PDFs should be used when the format and layout of a document need to be preserved. Examples include printable brochures, fillable forms, and historic prints. All attempts should be made to make the PDF accessible prior to sharing it with others.

When shouldn’t I use a PDF?

  • Unreadable/No Text Found: Many users unintentionally create PDFs without tags, characters, images, and text recognition. These “flattened” documents are extremely inaccessible.
  • The best alternative: If the content can be presented in another format, it is always recommended to use a webpage or a Word/Google Document. 
  • Support for Mobile Devices: Modern web content needs to be able to dynamically change by resizing, magnifying, or filling a window. Many users in our audiences access content via a mobile device which will automatically resize and adjust to the size of the window, but PDFs do not have this capability.
  • Updates and changes to your web content: If the content will be updated frequently, a PDF is not recommended.

How do I learn more about remediating a PDF?