PDF strategy in a can: getting to an accessible website

Put all your PDFs in the trash
Self-serve PDF strategy

The onset of the legal deadline for organizational and business websites to be WCAG 2.0 A-compliant has produced a flurry of activity around internet accessibility. Having a PDF strategy is part of the solution.

Because in my experience, what’s killing them – and costing them – most are their PDFs. (And slideshows, but that’s for another post).

Website producers in organizations where creating content is a print first, or print-only affair have to confront the results of years of using PDFs as a kludge for getting content onto their site.

You can make PDFs accessible. But the tools are awful, and it’s time consuming. Especially if all the work is done after the fact. Any time you thought you were saving by tossing that PDF onto the bottom of that page evaporates when you undertake to make it accessible and searchable.

Companies and organizations that are trying to make their front-facing websites comply with the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) learn that, in addition to retrofitting their PDFs, they have to come up with a PDF strategy.

As a public service, here’s what I call a proper PDF strategy.

  1. No PDFs shall be posted to the website.
  2. See rule number 2.
  3. Any PDF currently on the website will be removed and replaced with an HTML version at the earliest opportunity.
  4. If for some reason you were undeterred by rules 1 and 2, it is conceivable that content could be posted in PDF format if the document is:
    • only intended for print purposes: e.g.: directional signage for a conference, or some other public display etc.;
    • so long, complicated or its production values are so high that conversion to HTML would exceed the content’s lifespan or be otherwise too complicated to be worth the effort.
    • evidence of some kind – the primary source for a research project, an ATIP request, a love letter from a rock star or the like
    • has been:
      • OCRed,
      • edited to add meaningful metadata,
      • tagged in the original application (human-revised auto-tagging after the fact is permissible but will earn you extra stink-eye)
      • formatted and configured to print on the sorts of printers your visitors likely possess (e.g.: no printer spreads crop marks, separations, shrink-to-fit letter-sized paper, 300ppi 54lpi resolution/halftone screen etc)