If your government website is like most, it has a lot of PDF documents. They outline steps to a process, answer frequently asked questions, provide checklists, list requirements.
They are very common and they are a problem.
Most PDFs are not accessible
The best way to make a PDF accessible is to do so from the beginning. This often requires specialized skills and software. It’s not likely the old PDFs sitting on your site right now were made with those considerations.
This means people who use assistive technology, like screen readers, cannot access the information.
It’s also hard and expensive to make them accessible. There are companies who will do this for you – for lots of money and it’s not simple.
Also, no one likes them
PDFs are slow to load and hard to read on mobile. If they are large, they can take up a lot of data. They have security risks.
They are also hard to keep up to date and can lead to version control issues.
People just don’t like them. And governments keep making them.
What to do
Create an inventory of your PDFs so you know how many you have and where they are on your site. Use this to find:
- Outdated documents you can remove
- Forms you can convert to webforms
- Documents that can be turned into regular web pages
Work with your organization to stop the creation of new PDFs wherever possible. Default to web content instead. It’s easier to maintain, more secure, and way more accessible.
If you need to make PDFs, make sure they are accessible:
You can convert long government PDF document reports into web content.
- Content type for reports (from San Francisco’s digital team)
- Strategic plan, provided as both web content and a PDF (from Marin County)
If you are working with consultants who produce PDF reports for the public, require them to make the PDFs accessible.
If your government needs to keep a PDF document online, create a web page that includes:
- File size
- Date it was last updated
- Document download button
- Contact information
When you need to share a link to the PDF document, link to the page instead of directly to the document. This gives the user full control over if they want to download it. ProudCity’s Documents make this easy.
If the PDF document is not accessible, let people know how to request the information in an accessible format.
- PDF Accessibility (WebAIM)
- Why are PDFs (mostly) awful and what’s the alternative? (GatherContent)
- Usability and Accessibility Issues with PDFs (University of Wisconsin)