Dicision Tree: When does an accessible PDF make sense?

PDF has established itself as the standard format for designed information on the web and for distribution via e-mail and other channels. But if you look at the effort that goes into PDFs in general and accessible PDFs in particular, the format no longer makes so much sense today.

This decision tree should help you decide if and when a PDF makes sense.

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In general: Once a PDF is in the world, its distribution can no longer be controlled. No one knows how much outdated information resides in PDFs on the web and on hard drives, and how much is downloaded and redistributed. But it should be a few million in Germany alone.

While the creation of a PDF always involves a great deal of effort, content can be put online and taken offline again with practically no effort. Web information are mostly linked to and not saved locally. Basically, PDFs that are on the Internet would require permanent monitoring, which is rarely done in practice. If a PDF is not linked, it can still be found by search engines. It can be, and often is likely, that older PDF documents are easier to find than updated PDF documents or web pages.

While cleanly created HTML content can easily be transferred to a new layout or corporate design, a PDF must in principle be completely re-layouted. Basically, every major change requires that perhaps one page, but often the entire document has to be re-red-designed.

Certain assistive techniques, such as adjusting the font, only work to a limited extent in PDF and often require special reader programs. While almost everyone knows how to zoom text in the browser, Adobe Reader's reflow mode is unknown among many who might benefit from it. PDF is the least convenient mainstream format.

As an alternative to PDF, we assume normal websites here. ePub or typical Office formats would also be possible, but these are unusual for various reasons and, at least with Office formats, they quickly come across as unprofessional. In addition, the formats from Microsoft in particular are considered a security risk, so they are potentially blocked or pushed into spam. ePub is easily viewable on mobile devices, but not necessarily on desktop PCs. With PDFs, the probability is greatest that the user has a program for displaying them on the system.

In fact, PDF is not used in many cases because it is the best format for the purpose. Rather, it is used because it is a kind of waste product of a print template.

Decision tree: PDF yes, , maybe or no

Under "yes" you will find arguments that clearly speak for a PDF.

Under "maybe" we find requirements that can be met with PDF, but also with HTML.

Under "no" we find requirements that websites can better meet than PDFs.

Yes - it makes sense

The information remains up-to-date for a long time, at least 1 year.

The resources of time, money and personnel for the creation of a accessible PDF are available.

The information is voluminous—at least 6,000 characters—and unlikely to be read in one go.

If the information were online, it would have to be spread over several websites.

Accessible PDFs can be created in-house.

You are a public institution or are obliged to comply with the requirements of public institutions.

Perhaps - may make sense

The information will probably be needed again later by the reader.

The information will probably be printed out.

The information will be distributed by mail.

The information should be visually sophisticated.

The information should only go to a limited group of users.

The information should also be accessible to the user if he does not have internet access.

An experienced service provider is available and has the resources.

No - it doesn't make sense

The information must be updated regularly.

The information is used only once or not regularly.

The resources of staff, money and time for an accessible PDF are not available.

The information is only valid for a short time.

The information is likely to be read on a smartphone/small display.

The information must be for example fed into a database via a form.

The document contains embedded or interactive elements such as multimedia.

There is no experienced service provider available or known.

The information needs to be published/distributed quickly.

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