Are Your PDFs Compliant? Do they need to be?

Contributed by CS-Graphic Design Inc.

Accessibility means a lot of different things to different people. In terms of accessible communications, Portable Document Formats (PDFs) are the way of the future. The PDF can help people with visual, hearing, cognitive and motor impairments access information within a PDF.

How Accessible PDFs Work

Accessible PDFs give assistive devices, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and refreshable Braille, more information. For example, PDFs can define a logical reading order; provide descriptions of visual elements; include navigational aids; and offer translatable content. Each of these functions benefits users of assistive devices.

Although all PDFs have accessible capabilities, not all PDFs are created with accessible functions. This is where the challenge lies.

How Accessibility Will Affect Your Business

In recent years, the Ontario government introduced legislation that requires organizations to make accessible communications a priority. Beginning January 1, 2014 the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly will be required to provide all public information in accessible formats. For other types of organizations public, private and not-for-profit accessibility requirements will not be made mandatory until 2015 and beyond. (For more details, refer to the table below)

Even if your company is not immediately affected, it’s a good idea to start understanding accessible formats. For one thing, fully accessible and compliant PDFs require both pre-planning and proper content conversion. This includes formatting and tagging content prior to PDF creation, and additional formatting after PDF creation. Of course, websites are another accessible format. However, different legislative dates and accessibility standards exist for websites. (For more information, go to:

Accessible communications truly do benefit everyone. Providing information in an accessible format, such as a PDF, gives your organization the broadest reach possible. It also creates a positive dynamic between your client and you. Regulations aside, it’s simply good business practice.


When Do Organizations Have to Comply?

Government of Ontario and Legislative AssemblyJanuary 1, 2014
Designated Public Sector Organizations (50+ Employees)January 1, 2015
Designated Public Sector Organizations (1-49 Employees)January 1, 2016
Private and Not-for-Profit Organizations (50+ Employees)January 1, 2016
Private and Not-for-Profit Organizations (1-49 Employees)January 1, 2017

This chart was extracted from â€œA Guide to the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation,” Section 12, page 39.

If you’re not sure when your organization will be required to comply with the accessible communications legislation, check out Access Ontario’s online tool at: