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Section 508: The Importance of PDF ADA Compliance

Any organization that uses PDFs to provide information for employees or clients needs to practice PDF accessibility under Section 508. To implement the proper compliance procedures, it's important to understand Section 508 and ADA compliance. Read on to learn more!

ADA Section 508 / Section 504 / Title III

Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 1998, an amendment by Congress required federal entities to make electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.

According to Section 508, federal government organizations are required to give disabled citizens and employees access to information at the same level as the access they would receive elsewhere. This law applies to any federal agency that is developing, procuring, maintaining, or using EIT.

In addition to Section 508, Section 504 or Title III may apply to your digital documents as well. Section 504 applies to procurements by organizations that receive federal funding, while Title III can apply to commercial companies considered a "place of public accommodation".

ADA PDF Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), made effective in 1990, is the first major legislation to level the playing field for people with disabilities. The ADA prohibits government agencies, commercial organizations, and several other entities from discriminating based on disabilities, and sets accessibility standards for these same entities to follow.

ADA standards also apply to PDF accessibility, so it's critical to address many of the common issues people with disabilities encounter with PDFs. Sometimes it can be easy to overlook the digital documents being included as part of the delivery of products and services. For example, user guides and other documentation associated with delivered software must be accessible.

Another example is a PDF version of a restaurants menu hosted on their website. service or product delivery. If your restaurant's website is considered a place of public accommodation under Title III, those documents need to be accessible in addition to the website itself.

Common Accessibility Issues in PDFs

  • No, or incomplete, metadata. Each PDF should have the following information correctly filled out: title, author, subject, and keywords.
  • No tags. Without tags, a document is not accessible or in compliance with accessibility standards.
  • Incorrect tag structure. Tagged PDFs aren't automatically compliant. If tags are incorrect or in the wrong reading order, for example, the PDF will be inaccessible and not in compliance.
  • No alternate text on images. Without alternative text, a screen reader will say there's an image on the page, but will be unable to give any information on what the image is and why it's important. This is a common problem with PDFs.
  • No bookmarks. Bookmarks help with navigation in documents longer than nine pages. The bookmarks and headings used in the document should match.

It is also important to mention that while Microsoft Word has accessibility features built-in, when converting the document to a PDF you may lose some or all of those features. Even if your document was accessible as a Word document, that does not mean it is still accessible as a PDF. In addition, between the various PDF creators / generators (e.g., Acrobat, PowerPDF, Foxit, Etc.) implementation and consistency of features can be uneven.

Turning to a PDF Accessibility Expert

Understanding Section 508 and ADA compliance is the first step to accessibility remediation. Through further education on accessibility standards and a partnership with an expert in compliance, companies can remove barriers to information for people with disabilities.

However, when looking to improve PDF accessibility, a company should turn to an independent expert in Section 508 and ADA compliance, unless it has employees with prior PDF accessibility experience. TestPros is an expert in Section 508 compliance, and offers services to help companies implement the proper compliance protocols.

TestPros works with clients to address and improve compliance with Section 508 guidelines, W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and other relevant guidelines. And since compliance should be addressed as part of the system development life cycle, TestPros tests early for compliance to encourage proper planning and prevent expensive work in the future.

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Our team is happy to answer your questions and help make your next project successful. Contact us today and we will be in touch as soon as possible. 

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