Consequences of Inaccessible PDFs

Woman remediating inaccessible PDFs on a laptop wearing headphones.

With diversity and inclusion coming to the forefront of corporate priorities in the past few years,  website accessibility has become more important than ever. Organizations that don’t take steps to make their websites and other digital resources accessible will fall behind other companies that prioritize including all potential customers. That includes inaccessible PDFs.

Website accessibility requires more than just digital accessibility features like a keyboard-navigable menu, captioned audio and video files, and described images. Your website might still be inaccessible if any PDFs on it haven’t been coded for accessibility. Without proper coding, PDF files are often inaccessible, lacking the necessary tags to tell assistive technology what’s on the page. 

But if the rest of your website is accessible, are inaccessible PDFs really that big of a deal?

 

Lawsuits

One of the most significant consequences of inaccessible PDFs are lawsuits. Many courts have considered websites to be places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA, even without written clarity on the issue. That includes PDFs posted on the website. If your website or any files on it are inaccessible, you are in violation of the ADA. Digital accessibility lawsuits are up 200% over the last 5 years, and 4055 were filed in 2021 alone. 

Recently, the Department of Justice has shown its support for plaintiffs by filing Statements of Interest in ADA Title III accessibility cases. Based on this support, experts believe that the DOJ will continue to aggressively enforce the ADA Title III and attempt to expand its reach.

 

Lost website traffic and sales

Another consequence of inaccessible PDFs is lost business. When customers can’t find the information they need on a website, they usually just leave. 71% of customers leave a website that is hard to use. Accessible websites are easier to use and often result in revenue growth. By failing to make every part of your website accessible, including PDFs, you risk losing visitors, which often means losing sales. And the market share of people with disabilities is no small market. The disposable income of U.S. adults with disabilities is comparable to other large segments like the African American and Hispanic markets. Failing to accommodate such a major market means you’re leaving money on the table and excluding nearly 25% of the population who have disabilities.

The internet has become increasingly saturated with businesses moving exclusively online during the pandemic, and failing to stay relevant by prioritizing diversity and inclusion through accessibility can mean losing business.

 

Reputation damage

Consumers want to support companies who support good causes, like accessibility, even if that cause doesn’t directly impact them.  In fact, 90% of consumers are likely to switch to, trust, and be loyal to a company that supports a good cause.

Failing to make all of your digital resources- including PDFs- accessible gives the impression that your company does not prioritize accessibility and those who need it. 

How would your audience know your content isn’t accessible? Word spreads. All it takes is for one person with a disability who has been excluded by your inaccessible content to tell friends and family members or post a bad review for your reputation to be affected. Add that to the negative publicity a potential lawsuit could earn and you’ve got a PR nightmare.

 

Excluding people is wrong

Leaving out an entire demographic, whether intentional or not, is simply wrong. Inaccessible PDFs prevent people with disabilities from receiving information in the same way as anyone else. It suggests that your organization doesn’t care about including people, and that you’re unwilling to make the effort to allow people with disabilities to access your content. Going the extra step to make sure your resources are available to everyone is the right thing to do. 

René Jaun, a speaker who is blind and who presented at a European PDF accessibility conference, said “Actually, you guys out there think that normal people have the right to access your services and documents and products then please don’t be so arrogant to even think that people with disabilities do not deserve or want that access.

 

Don’t leave pieces of your website inaccessible

Once you’ve made the investment in making your website accessible, don’t exclude important pieces like PDFs. Neglecting them can result in a damaged reputation, lost sales and market share, and litigation. Each of those results are bad on their own, but would be a PR disaster if combined, especially for businesses struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world.

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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”