When making a document, it is always best to create it by using accessible software (Microsoft Word) and then export it to an accessible PDF. This way, if the document is edited later, its accessibility features will still be intact and be passed to the PDF when it is exported again.
If the original document is not available, accessibility features can be added to the PDF by using Adobe Acrobat Pro.
The argument against PDFs
Presenting digital documents and web content as PDFs should be a practice that is rarely used. Not only do they cause accessibility issues for people with disabilities, but they also present problems for people without them. Here are a few reasons PDFs are problematic and should be avoided:
- Google and other search engines can't crawl the content of a PDF. This means that if you put important information into a PDF, it won't be found on a Google search.
- They are not mobile-friendly because PDFs are sized for paper, not screens. A PDF will scale to fit the size of your cell phone or tablet, which means they will have to zoom in close up and scroll left to right to see any of the text.
- They are static and users can't engage with them. This means they can't click on email addresses or links which makes it impossible for visitors to act immediately on something, such RSVPing, emailing for more information, or fill out a form.
- You can't track reader engagement. If the information was instead in a webpage, you would be able to tell how many visitors are accessing the information, how they got to that page, and how much time they spent there.
- PDFs take users away from your website. The only way to get back to your website is the back button instead of having access to the navigation menu or other links. If the information was in a web page instead, users would be able to interact with the information or choose where on your site they would like to go next.
- PDFs can be slow to load and even slower to download.
Alternatives to PDFs:
- Put the information into a web page if at all possible. This will make it easier for Google to find the information so it will show up in search results. It is also easier to edit the web site than it is to edit a PDF and upload it again.
- Create the document in an accessive platform such as Word
- Never choose a "Print" to PDF option in Office, or in any other program. A screen reader user may still be able to access the text of a PDF created in this way, but heading structure, alternative text, and any other tag structure will be lost.
- Google Docs and Slides are not able to export as an accessible PDF. We recommend sharing the original document with view-only permissions. Users will be able to download the document in different formats with the view-only link.
- If you must save your Google Doc as PDF, it's recommended to download the Google Doc as a Microsoft Word file. Review the document to ensure it retained the heading structure and any alt text you added. Then save as a PDF (best for online distribution and accessibility).