A thousand ways PDFs can get you sued – mitigating accessibility lawsuits

Keyboard and gavel for digital accessibility lawsuits

Digital Accessibility is the Law

In 2022, plaintiffs filed over 4,000 digital accessibility lawsuits under the ADA. Also in 2022,  DOJ announced the Advanced Rulemaking Process for ADA Title II digital accessibility regulations starting in 2023. They stated that websites qualify as “places of public accommodation,” which means they definitely fall under the ADA. 

The DOJ announcement states that “many websites from public entities (i.e., State and local governments) fail to incorporate or activate features that enable users with disabilities to access the public entity’s programs, activities, services, or information online.” This means organizations must make their digital content and websites accessible under federal law.

Experts project that 2023 lawsuit numbers will reflect yet another increase in cases filed. 

Digital Accessibility includes PDFs

Digital accessibility also covers PDF files available on websites and distributed to customers via email or through websites and mobile apps. Large corporations may have thousands or more PDF files. Each inaccessible PDF file can potentially lead to accessibility lawsuits.

Inaccessible PDFs have a real impact on people’s daily lives. In a 2022 survey by Equidox, over 67% of assistive technology users reported encountering inaccessible PDFs. Inaccessible PDFs affect job performance for 72% of respondents and create barriers in daily lives for 60% of respondents.

PDFs Pose Accessibility Lawsuit Risks

PDF files are commonly used for information sharing due to their security and consistent appearance across varying devices. However, PDFs are notoriously difficult for people using assistive technology to read. PDFs need to be digitally labeled (or “tagged”) to be read by screen readers or Braille displays. This process is called PDF remediation.

Challenges in PDF Remediation

Common accessibility issues with PDFs that can lead to accessibility lawsuits include:

  • Failure of accessible source files (such as MSWord or GoogleDocs) to remain accessible when converted to PDF
  • Incorrect reading order (content not tagged in the correct sequence)
  • Lack of accessible navigational tools (such as headings, bookmarks, and links)
  • Failure to identify complex elements such as tables and lists
  • Lack of text alternatives (alt-text) for images, charts, graphs, and maps 

Many organizations face challenges in PDF remediation due to the high volume of templated documents produced by multiple content creators. Backlogs of inaccessible files await remediation, with new files added regularly.

Providing a consistently accessible experience for this many documents poses unique challenges in terms of staffing, time, and technical know-how.

Addressing PDF Accessibility

Organizations use a variety of approaches to address PDF accessibility and avoid lawsuits. Many organizations utilize a combination of several approaches. 


Outsourcing PDF remediation to vendors is a common option. This has the advantage of removing the task from in-house staff.  It requires no specialized personnel, software, or training.  

However, outsourcing may lack control over security and timeline, and cost can be a concern for large volumes.   

Most importantly, without trained staff to check the remediated documents, there is a real risk that documents received back may not actually BE accessible, despite reports stating they are.  Some oversight evaluation is always required. 

In-house remediation

In-house remediation using software tools allows better control over accuracy and timeline. Remediation tools require staff, time, training, and in most cases, a level of accessibility expertise. The usability of these software tools varies so be sure to research and find one that is easy to learn and use, and provides features that streamline the remediation process. 

Equidox Software provides an accessible and user-friendly solution with free training, support, and automated features. Anyone in an organization can quickly learn to make their documents accessible, even without previous accessibility experience.

For organizations producing hundreds or thousands of templated documents weekly or monthly, the time investment using manual tools is considerable. It may not be cost-effective in terms of staffing to address PDF accessibility using these solutions.  No matter how easy the software is for individual PDFs, there is a better, faster way to remediate high volumes of templated documents.

Fully automated remediation

There are fully automated PDF accessibility solutions available.  Once programmed, these convert inaccessible PDFs to accessible ones without the need for further human intervention. Most are designed for high volumes of system-generated or templated documents. Many require redesigning templates that produce repetitive documents such as statements or monthly reports.  A solution that can be applied post-process, after the PDFs have been generated, is the best option. This is because it avoids having to completely rework existing document generation systems and procedures. 

Some automated solutions rely on “Business rules” to tag PDF elements. This means the tools are trained to tag PDF elements based on specific written rules.  These are only as accurate as the “rules” and the consistency of the documents. Any deviation from the expected formatting or layout may result in inaccessible documents.  

Other automated solutions, such as Equidox AI,  use artificial intelligence (AI), including machine learning (ML) and computer vision (CV).  Equidox AI accounts for deviations and outliers from the norm based on advanced AI training techniques. The remediation is done quickly and accurately, with little chance of human error once the automated model is programmed. Equidox AI conducts rigorous testing and validation during the programming process to ensure both accessibility and a great user experience.

However, as with all PDF remediation, organizations should not rely on an automated compliance report. Automated checkers can only identify 20-30% of accessibility errors. Enlist screen-reader users to evaluate the “accessible” documents to be sure that they are, in fact, accessible for people with disabilities. A passing automated compliance report won’t help you if your organization is sued by someone who can point out how the document is inaccessible. 

Protect your organization from accessibility lawsuits

To mitigate the risk of accessibility lawsuits, organizations must make their websites and PDF documents accessible to everyone. Choosing a solution, evaluating its performance, and starting the remediation process as soon as possible is crucial. The higher the number of inaccessible files, the greater the risk of lawsuits.

If you’d like to learn more about PDF accessibility and how to get started remediating your files, contact us to schedule a free consultation. We will review your options, recommend the right solution(s) for your organization, and provide a free demonstration of your options. 


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Tammy Albee

Tammy Albee | Director of Marketing | Equidox Tammy joined Equidox after four years of experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."