PDF Accessibility

The resources cited below are intended to inform and advise graphic designers, document authors, content managers and policy makers who need to understand how Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 apply to PDF documents. If you need hands-on assistance with making your documents accessible, please contact us or check out our PDF accessibility services.

What do you NEED to know?

Documents vary from simple to very complex. Even seemingly small errors can have huge accessibility consequences. Most PDF files cannot be checked for compliance with Section 508 without human assistance. Best practice in authoring is key to cost-effective production of accessible PDFs. For more information see our PDF Creation Best Practices and Facts vs. Myths tabs.

Accessibility is good for everyone

Accessible documents are useful to those in the private sector even when they’re not required to be compliant by law. See Accessible Tech’s excellent list of examples showing the universal benefits.

Technical: How Section 508 applies in PDF

The regulations apply to all Information Technology, including electronic documents and forms. Whether HTML, Word document, presentation, spreadsheet or PDF file, Section 508 requires the document be readable by all. Learn more about what Section 508 means in PDF technical terms.

What about “Reading Order”?

Assistive technology depends on document structure tags to determine the appropriate reading order of text and the meaning of images and other content. An untagged document does not have structure information, and a PDF viewer such as Acrobat must infer a structure based on the Reading Order preference setting, which often results in page items being read in the wrong order or not at all. Reflowing a document for viewing on the small screen of a mobile device also relies on the document structure tags. For more information, see this Adobe article.

While PDF “Reading Order” is not relevant to Section 508 compliance or accessibility, we do offer Reading Order adjustment as an additional service upon request.

Section 508 & WCAG

In the current (2001) regulations, Sections 1194.21 and 1194.22 set technical requirements for forms and documents based on WCAG 1.0, which was specific to HTML. In the planned update to Section 508, new technical standards will be based on WCAG 2.0, with far richer and more extensive requirements.

Are similar regulations being adopted elsewhere?

All 50 U.S. states are in the process of adopting Section 508 or developing their own accessibility policies based on Section 508 or WCAG. Canada’s Common Look and Feel standards, and new laws in the UK and Germany and elsewhere are either taking effect or under development.