# Website Design & Communication

What is Required To Verify PDF Documents Are Fully Accessible And Compliant?

What is Required To Verify PDF Documents Are Fully Accessible And Compliant? Written by CivicPlus Like your municipal website, PDFs of agenda, minutes, and other local documents must be ADA compliant.


June 2, 2022
10 min

If there’s one recurring question we can always count on when CivicPlus launches a new municipal website, it’s this one: What do we do about all the PDFs on our website? If your municipality is like most, you have hundreds or thousands of PDF pages posted to your website. And just like your website these PDFs also are required by law to be accessible. It seems like almost every day now a new report surfaces highlighting the recent and ongoing swell of ADA lawsuits filed against local governments for their inaccessible websites and electronic documents.

Ensuring PDF Documents are fully accessible can be a daunting task; here is what is required to ensure the documents are 100 percent accessible and compliant.

  1. Tag your document and verify the reading order
  2. Confirm the metadata and ensure that color/contrast meets the standard
  3. Add appropriate alternative text to the images
  4. Confirm your lists are properly formatted
  5. Properly tag tables
  6. Remove empty tags, set tab order, and create bookmarks
  7. Verify compliance using a third-party testing tool, many of which are free

Counting on Adobe Acrobat alone is a huge mistake. While Acrobat has an “Accessibility Full Check” report, the Acrobat checker is not a complete test and is not a complete remediation solution. Passing the Acrobat checker does not guarantee compliance with any standards. Acrobat will even let you save a compliance report, but that report does not warrant your work meets 100% of the checkpoints of Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, HHS, or PDF/UA.

Instead, we recommend using one of the proven third-party testing tools that guarantee you’ll meet compliance with the top standards:

  1. PAC3 is a free tool that can be downloaded and installed for testing PDF documents.
    • It lets you test PDF documents against the PDF/UA standard (only) and provides an accessibility report
    • The PDF report produced is not PDF/UA compliant
  2. CommonLook PDF Validator is a free tool that works as a plugin for Adobe Acrobat Pro.
    • Provides a full listing of the accessibility checkpoints that passed or failed so you can quickly drill down to the areas that need to be addressed
    • Reports on all Accessibility Standards (Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, HHS, PDF/UA, ISO32000-1:2008)
    • Reports are comprehensive for each checkpoint, and the HTML reports are fully accessible

PDF compliance can be difficult to understand, and there are many misconceptions out there regarding what is required to ensure documents are accessible. Organizations are best served to make sure their documents meet the standard and testing using one of the free tools above is a good first step. Don’t make the mistake of tagging your documents using Adobe Acrobat Pro and thinking that your work is done.

Final note, keep in mind this is to ensure the PDFs you create going forward are accessible. You still need to develop a strategy for how to handle what has already been created and possibly posted on your website. There are professional services, tools, and training available that can help. Be sure they fully guarantee their work and ask them to provide a report showing that the documents 100 percent pass the standards.

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