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HTML vs. PDF FilesAccessibility

Accessibility experts recommend we avoid or minimize the use of Portable Document Format (PDF) files as a sole source of online information due to the difficulty of making these files accessible to users with disabilities.

Potential Drawbacks of Using PDF Files

  • Software requirement and knowledge: If you’re a content creator at College of The Albemarle (COA), you’ll need access to the full version of Adobe Acrobat™ or a working knowledge of the accessibility tools in authoring programs such as Microsoft Word™
  • Accessibility errors: The process of repairing PDF files is time consuming and can lead to inconsistent results; Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the code developers use to create web pages, is far better for accessibility
  • Printing inconsistencies: PDF documents are usually formatted to print vertically, but computer monitors generally have a horizontal orientation; this causes users to scroll more, which can be difficult for those with mobility impairments
  • Slow downloads: Large files can be slower to download than an HTML page
  • Usability problems: The interface between a browser and a PDF file can be inconsistent
  • Editing limitations: If your PDF file contains grammatical errors or doesn’t comply with COA’s in-house style guide, you’ll need to fix your file; however, if we publish your information in HTML, our web content manager will correct errors and properly format the content for accessibility

Recommendations

  • Unless you need a form published on our website, request the creation of a web page instead of posting a PDF file
  • If a PDF file is mandatory, be sure it is accessible by using Adobe’s PDF file accessibility guide and the HHS PDF file accessibility checklist
  • If a PDF file uses graphics to convey information, type out the message so the data is also available outside any visual aids
  • Avoid converting documents with multiple columns or complex tables into a PDF file because screen readers or other text-to-speech technologies may unexpectedly read text across columns and require additional scrolling