PDFs and Alternative Formats

In order to comply with Penn State Policy AD69 (Accessibility of Electronic and Information Technology), web content and services must be accessible to people with disabilities.  One stumbling block to accessibility can be PDF documents.  This is because PDF documents, by default, are not readily accessible to people with disabilities (nor to those who use mobile devices.)  Therefore, PDF documents cannot be the sole source of presenting online information.


There are several options.  Each option includes the advantage or disadvantage with respect to the content editor.

Avoid PDFs, if possible.  Instead, place the content on a web page. 

  • Web pages are the preferred format since content will be accessible as long as best practices are followed.  (Best practices include using alt tags for images, not using tables for page layout, etc.)  
  • Advantage:  This option makes it easier for you to maintain the content since you only have to update one document --- the web page.
  • Disadvantage:  Content cannot be highly formatted (like that of a newsletter or brochure).


If you link to a PDF, make the PDF content available in another accessible format. 

  • Acceptable formats include an accessible web page or an accessible Word document.  (Note:  Word documents must be remediated for any accessibility issues.  Word's easy-to-use accessibility checker is a great way to begin.  Although accessibility checkers can find basic issues, a manual review of the document is usually required to identify other outstanding issues.)
  • Advantage:  This option allows you to provide the content in a visually appealing manner via a PDF and provide the content in an alternative, accessible format.
  • Disadvantage:  This option means that you'll need to maintain (and link) two documents --- the PDF and the web page or Word document.

Be aware that ​PDFs can be remediated for accessibility issues.  However, if you choose to do this, it can be a difficult, time-intensive, and costly process.  There are services which will remediate PDFs for a fee, including CommonLook and EquiDox Accessible PDF Conversion.


If you have any questions about web accessibility, please submit an IT Ticket.

To learn more about the accessibility of PDF and Word documents, please refer to these resources: