Whether you work for a government agency, educational institution or for-profit business, your organization is likely en-route to destination WCAG 2.0 AA — the W3C’s standard for web accessibility. During your journey, you’ll probably encounter many crossroads.
PDF vs HTML: A Fork in the Road
Deciding whether to remediate PDFs or to migrate them to HTML is one such fork in the road. That’s why in this article I’ll examine five key considerations that will help you determine the best path to WCAG 2.0 AA conformance and, ultimately, web accessibility for all.
HTML is more mobile-friendly, which is important since today users have multiple types of devices. Unfortunately for the PDF format, it’s nearly impossible to provide a responsive design for a PDF document that is opened using a mobile device.
Many organizations choose the PDF format because they feel it provides tighter security than HTML. However, security options such as password-protection and forbidden document copying apply only to Adobe products. An abundance of free tools exist that can open and edit a “secure” PDF file without adhering to Adobe’s security settings.
Remediating PDFs in-house is hard work — and requires experience with Acrobat. Most PDFs are not properly tagged. This makes manual remediation challenging and time-consuming since the tag tree in Acrobat is complicated. Moreover, converting a PDF file using manual processes does not guarantee that the information is fully accessible — or conforms to the WCAG 2.0 standard.
4. Required Skill
The only commercial desktop tool for editing the tag tree is Adobe Acrobat and it requires significant skill and knowledge. There is no “undo” control in the tag tree, and it should be reserved for the most technical and patient employees, or external professional PDF remediation houses. On the other hand, WCAG remediation of HTML content is generally straightforward.
5. Browser Behavior
In most browsers, PDF files open in the browser itself by default rather than in Adobe Reader. Therefore PDF tags may not be brought over, making them inaccessible even if they were properly tagged. Also, PDF fillable forms are no longer fillable when opened in a browser.
Other interactive functionality is also removed by the browser, including reporting to the Accessibility API. A visually impaired person using a screen reader must open a PDF file in Adobe Reader or he or she cannot access the content.
So you may ask yourself: Is HTML the best route to reach destination WCAG 2.0 AA? Today, the answer for many organizations is “yes”, even for content that is currently only available in PDF. PDF to HTML conversion isn’t difficult using new tools such as Equidox. The goal of web accessibility is indeed attainable. For most PDF content, converting to HTML is a big step in the right direction.