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The Difference Between a PDF and an Accessible PDF

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A Portable Document Format or PDF file is a self-contained and independent file that does not rely on any software or hardware to display the contents. It can contain texts, links, graphics, or tables; basically, any content you wish to show! Perhaps, this is why PDFs are the most popular file extension on the internet today!

In 1993, Adobe invented the PDF format, and ever since, it has seen various updates, innovations, and modern features. One essential feature of a PDF file is the ‘Accessibility Feature.’ An Accessible PDF fulfills specific technical criteria and can be used by people with disabilities. It includes people with mobility impairments, visual, hearing, and cognitive impairments.

Why Is the PDF Format So Popular?

The greatest attribute of PDFs is their universality. You can view a PDF file on any device, operating system, or software application that supports them. All software tools that generate digital files support the PDF format and allow users to create PDF versions of files within the software. PDFs are easy and convenient to create and share.

Moreover, corporates need to create accessible PDFs for someone with visual and cognitive disabilities. These PFD are compatible with accessible devices. All government and significant private bodies use accessible PDFs to reach disabled people for documentation like signing contracts. So your reach gets wider and legally approved.

Tags in PDF’s

When you open a new PDF file, you can check for tagging by going to the ‘Properties’ option under the ‘File’ menu. If your PDF is tagged, you will see the’ Tagged PDF’ at the bottom of your screen in the ‘Document Properties’ pop-up menu. Tagged PDFs can adapt to different screen sizes, offer higher quality displays on smartphones, and may also contain accessibility markups. They enhance the reading experience for screen readers and other supporting technologies.

Accessible PDFs need to be tagged correctly. Correct tags enable a screen reader to navigate a document and understand its content and relevance. Tagging gives the document a structure and allows assistive software/devices to follow the proper reading order.

What is the Difference Between a Standard PDF and an Accessible PDF?

In terms of user experience and creation, there are not many differences between Accessible PDF vs. PDF. But as the name suggests, an accessible PDF is easy to access – specifically for people with disabilities. People with visual or cognitive impairments generally use assistive software and devices to read documents. Accessible PDF documents are compatible with assistive devices and software like screen magnifiers, screen readers, speech-recognition software, text-to-speech software, and refreshable Braille displays.

You can create accessible PDFs on any computer. All government entities, large organizations, and corporates use accessible PDFs to communicate and distribute information in the form of digital documents. Even though an accessible PDF looks similar to a standard PDF, you can see the difference when the document is read through an assisted device.

Can You Convert Any PDF into an Accessible PDF?

The short answer is yes. Any PDF may be converted to an accessible PDF by making a few adjustments. A common misconception is that adding tags is enough to convert a standard PDF to an accessible PDF. However, some additional steps may be required depending on how the document was initially created.

  1. Scanned Documents – Scanned documents need to go through optical character recognition or OCR to convert the document to text instead of an image. After that, you need to create the tag tree.
  2. Review the Tag Tree – For tagged documents, it is essential to review the tag tree to ensure that the tags match the reading order, alt-text, and additional information.
  3. Verification – Use a PDF validator to check and verify your PDF’s accessibility. You have to install a PDF validator as a plug-in in your browser to check your documents. There are many free PDF validators available online.
  4. PDF Remediation – PDF remediation adds missing or extra information into your file to guide a screen reader to parse or read the document as it is meant to be read. For example, distinguishing between a table and a list.

PDFs are a universal format of documents used widely around the world. It makes it easy to share and communicate information as per the content creator’s intention. Corporates, educational institutes, large organizations, and government bodies all use this format to share documentation. Therefore, it is essential to convert PDFs into accessible versions to allow all kinds of audiences to read and understand the document.

About the Author

sfvsdfs Emilie Brown works with the Digital Marketing team at PREP, an AI-based remediation software that enables businesses to create WCAG and ADA compliant PDFs in minutes. Her approach and methodology is simple, concise and to-the-point and connects with readers seeking for solution-driven content on topics related to accessibility and remediation. Apart from her time at work, she loves to spend time with her dog, volunteer and play her guitar.

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