PDF accessibility: beyond tagging and screen reader accessibility

22 January 2016 | Ted Page

The following is a summary of the talk given by Ted Page, at the recent PDF Accessibility Days conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

There were three main strands to the talk:

Firstly, the need to ensure that content is designed in a way that doesn’t compromise accessibility: it’s important to get the content right before you even start to think about the technical aspects of accessibility, such as tagging (5 examples shown).

Secondly, the need to go beyond tagged PDF, beyond PDF/UA compliance and beyond screen reader accessibility to ensure that PDFs are also accessible to the many users of non-screen reader assistive technologies (ATs) (3 examples shown).

Thirdly, whilst no document reading systems are yet fully up to speed accessibility-wise, some areas that PDF needs to address, if it is to fend of competition from other formats, include:

  • access to typographic style: the ability to customise font face, font size, colour, line height and line length
  • the ability to include accessible MathML
  • accessibility on mobiles and tablets

Despite its many advantages, PDF currently lags behind other formats such as EPUB in all three of the above areas.


So, in conclusion, in order to make PDFs as accessible as they can be:

  • PDF accessibility professionals need to look to content authors to eliminate accessibility problems within the content itself
  • They need to go beyond tagging, beyond screen reader accessibility and beyond standards compliance to address the needs of all AT users
  • PDF itself needs to address its current weaknesses, including access to typographic style, accessibility on mobiles/tablets/Macs etc, and incorporating external technologies such as MathML