Checklist for accessible PDF and Documents

You are welcome to use these requirements for accessible PDFs for your requirements management.

Tip: In general, consider whether PDF is the appropriate format. I always say: PDF on the Internet is like printing out websites. To this day, PDF cannot be properly viewed on a smartphone, the dropout rate for PDF is generally high, whether accessible or not. In 90 percent of the cases, a website is the better format.

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Minimum standard and quality assurance

Define a minimum quality standard for accessible PDF documents for your organization. This is especially true when different departments work with different service providers.

Please also note that an automatic check with the free PDF Accessibility Checker is not sufficient to check a PDF for accessibility.

Please note: Serious mistakes can already occur during the conception phase. This includes the use of insufficient contrast, sensory information, and communication purely through color.

WCAG and EN 301549 as the standard for accessible PDF

The standard for accessible PDFs is not PDF Universal Accessibility, or PDF UA for short. The current version of the Web Accessibility Guidelines is the basic standard for accessible PDFs, both in the EU and in other large bodies such as the American federal government. This means that the requirements of WCAG 2.1 AA apply as the basic requirement for accessible PDF documents. PDF UA only formulates technical requirements for accessible PDFs, but does not cover all requirements of accessible PDFs.

To be more precise, EN 301549 Chapter 9 applies in the EU and Section 508 in the USA as the standard for accessible documents, with both standards referencing WCAG 2.1 AA insofar as these can be implemented with documents/PDF. The safest way to drive is to use EN 301549 in the EU or Section 508 in the U.S. as the basis for accessible PDF orders. If your service provider does not know this standard, he must deal with it or you should look for a new service provider. My cooperation partner Silta will be happy to implement accessible PDF for you.

Digression: PDF reflow – reflow is not part of the standard

The so-called reflow mode or PDF reflow is not part of the PDF or PDF-UA standard.

It is true that there is a requirement for reflow in the Accessibility Standards (WCAG 2.1 1.4.10: Reflow). However, PDF reflow is a proprietary technology from Adobe that only works in Adobe Reader or Acrobat. In addition, the technology is error-prone and should therefore not be used. Unfortunately, this is misrepresented even by many professionals. Reflow cannot be implemented correctly with currently available methods and is therefore not a requirement for accessible PDF.

Checklist for requirements for accessible PDFs

All content is correctly tagged. This includes in particular headings, listings, paragraphs, tables.

All relevant graphics have an alternative description.

All non-content-carrying elements are marked as artifacts (invisible to assistive technology users). This is especially true for elements that are repeated on every page, such as headers or footers.

The metadata is stored in the document properties.

All items appear in a logical reading order.

The document language is stored correctly. Larger sections in foreign languages ​​are correctly marked.

If possible, no security mechanisms are activated. In particular, access through assistive technologies and copying of text is permitted.

Graphics do not contain any text (text graphics) that is relevant to understanding the content. Text contained in graphics such as diagrams is always offered in a text alternative such as continuous text or a table.

The file name is self-explanatory.

The title of the document is displayed in Adobe Reader's title bar, not the file name.

Text smaller than 18 pt or 14 pt bold has a minimum contrast of 4.5:1, larger text and graphical controls have a contrast of 3:1.

Information is not conveyed solely via color or color change, for example in diagrams.

Links and headings are explanatory, i.e. the user can draw conclusions about the following content or the linked point solely from the heading text or the linked point.

Complex tables are accessed via IDs, which means that nested tables, for example, link the headings and data cells via IDs.

Forms can easily be filled out on the screen. Form elements are labeled. Forms can be operated completely and in a logical order.

No security mechanisms are activated in the document. In particular, access through assistive technologies is permitted.

There are bookmarks or a linked table of contents for longer documents (more than one page).

Do not use programmed content such as JavaScript, currently there is no way to make this programmed content fully accessible in PDF, You can thank Adobe and the PDF Association for this.

Requirements for accessible PDF forms

Forms can be filled out on the screen without further action. The usability for the blind and visually impaired was ensured.

The usability via keyboard, in particular the use of the tab in a meaningful order is ensured.

Mandatory fields are clearly marked.

The input fields can be clearly assigned to each other by label.

Incorrect entries are recognizable where possible.

Conventions are adhered to in the design. This includes the usual order for entries such as first name, last name, street, zip code, city, telephone and so on.

Requirements for tables in accessible PDFs

Tales are read in a logical order. IMPORTANT: If data tables are not structured logically, they are practically unusable for the blind.

For complex tables, a description that is visible to the blind is stored.

Table headings are excellent.


The service provider performed a check using Adobe Acrobat Pro or a similar tool such as Kofax Power PDF.

You can run a check with the free PDF Accessibility Checker. Not all red fields are relevant in practice, but the creator should be able to explain why these errors occur.

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