Yes, WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) applies to PDF documents. These guidelines help ensure that PDFs are accessible to everyone, including people with difficulties.
PDF – Portable Document Format – is one of the most prevalent digital document formats and it is used by individuals and organizations all over the world. There are a number of reasons behind that, primarily because PDF documents can be viewed, accessed or even modified on any device, regardless of the environment in which they were originally created.
This means that if a PDF document is created on a Mac, it can be viewed on any smartphone, computer, tablet or operating system (OS). This is the inherent beauty of the PDF that makes it the first choice for disseminating information through digital documents.
But not all PDFs are created equal. A PDF document that is not created with digital accessibility in mind may not be accessible if everyone cannot easily open, access, read and navigate the document. And, when we say everyone, we include people with disabilities like vision, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairment.
To solve the problem of digital document inaccessibility, there is a set of universally-accepted guidelines that pave the way for compliance.
What is WCAG?
WCAG or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is a set of guidelines developed by W3C in cooperation with individuals and organizations all over the world.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where the public, member organizations and full-time staff work together to develop web standards. It’s the main international standards organization for the web.
WCAG outlines how to make digital content more accessible to people with disabilities. Anything you access on the internet on a regular basis falls under the purview of web content, such as images, videos, sounds, text or even color or markup that defines structure and presentation.
Who is WCAG intended for?
WCAG and its related resources and information are primarily intended for web content developers (website designers and engineers, page authors, etc.), web accessibility evaluation tool developers, web authoring tool developers and anyone else who wants or needs a standard for web accessibility.
If a digital asset, like a website, app or document meets WCAG guidelines, it generally means it is accessible.
Does WCAG apply to PDF documents?
Yes, WCAG applies to PDF documents to ensure that they are accessible to people with disabilities.
WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are technical standards with 12-13 guidelines that are organized under four main principles referred to as POUR:
For each guideline, there are testable success criteria at three levels: A, AA and AAA. A is the lowest level of compliance and AAA is the highest. You should comply with AA at a minimum.
To learn more about the principles and guidelines of web accessibility, check out this resource by W3C.
The latest standard of WCAG is WCAG 2.1, which was released in June 2018. Note that it wasn’t intended to replace WCAG 2.0. If a webpage (or, by extension, a PDF) passes at the WCAG 2.1AA level, then it will also pass WCAG 2.0AA.
You can read more about WCAG 2.1 and PDF Accessibility in this article.
What if your PDF doesn’t comply with WCAG guidelines?
If your PDF doesn’t comply with WCAG guidelines, it probably fails accessibility. This puts your organization at risk of being targeted in an accessibility-related lawsuit.
For this reason alone, it’s critical to verify your PDFs’ accessibility.
The good news is that you can do that easily by using our free PDF accessibility checker – CommonLook PDF Validator.
PDF Validator provides users with a certification report for each tested document. Communications and compliance specialists can rest assured that their PDFs are compliant with accessibility standards.