What is ADA compliance? How to Create an ADA-Compliant PDF?

Key Takeaways -
  1. ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.
  2. WCAG is a set of guidelines that help in ADA compliance.
  3. ADA applies to most workplaces and businesses – state government, local government, non-profits, and private companies.
  4. ADA compliance encompasses physical and information barriers.
  5. Non-compliance or violations can lead to severe penalties of up to $150,000.

Imagine you have launched your new business online and are excited about its growth. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a visually impaired woman logs onto her computer using a screen-reader as part of her daily routine. She lands on your website and is a prospective new client. Unfortunately, she cannot interact with your website due to accessibility issues. You have lost her business within a few seconds. Luckily, she decides to take her business to another website that is accessible and “ADA compliant” and does not file a complaint against you.

What is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It also guarantees them the same opportunities as everyone to participate in mainstream American life. ADA accessibility guidelines ensure accessibility to all individuals, regardless of their physical limitations. 

Presently, ADA guidelines expand beyond handrails, wheelchair accessibility, or parking spaces. With technological advances, ADA compliance standards now encompass all public-facing entities, including most websites, communications, and software.

With around 300 million colorblind people worldwide and 250 million with visual impairment, inaccessible PDFs could create an ‘Information Barrier’ for them. ADA accessibility requirements apply to PDFs since they are the most widely used file format across industries, schools, and universities. ADA requirements ensure that information is fully accessible to those with disabilities. While section 508 provides accessibility for digitally published material within government agencies and entities, the ADA compliance requirements apply broadly to society, commerce, and government.

Who is impacted by ADA compliance standards?

ADA is broad legislation covering various aspects of accessibility for people with disabilities. ADA requirements are mainly two-fold –
  1. Employees – Employers have to make accommodations for employees with disabilities to apply for jobs and do their jobs seamlessly.
  2. Consumers – Businesses of all types must ensure that customers with disabilities can access their services.
This might include – disabled-friendly entrances, disabled-friendly bathrooms, and the right kind of chairs, desks, accessible documents and websites, and office equipment.

What are the ADA compliance standards?

All types and sizes of businesses must comply with ADA legislation to ensure accessibility for their customers and employees (if there are over 15 employees). ADA compliance standards apply to local government offices, state government offices, non-profits, and businesses. To simplify the requirements, ADA is divided into five sections:

Role of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in ADA Compliances.

WCAG is an ISO standard set of guidelines that was first introduced in 1999. In 2018, WCAG 2.1 became the most recent version of the web accessibility standard. WCAG 2.1 covers many recommendations for making Web content accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG is a resource for meeting web design and content industry compliance standards. While you do not have to worry about becoming WCAG compliant, you’ll want to use WCAG as a guideline for achieving ADA site compliance. It serves as a reference for ADA web compliance.

Why does ADA apply to PDFs

PDF or Portable Document Format is the most popular document format used to publish documents to the web across industries. A PDF document comprises different elements such as paragraphs, figures, and tables, and each piece is tagged. Assistive technologies such as screen readers and text-to-speech devices use these tags to properly convey the document to people with disabilities. 

The ADA document remediation guidelines require PDFs to be fully accessible to assistive technology. Unfortunately, most PDFs are not tagged efficiently. They are notoriously inaccessible, and the inaccessibility creates information barriers for people with disabilities.

An ADA compliant PDF or document must be –

How to create an ADA compliant PDF?

Unfortunately, creating accessible content that complies with the ADA and WCAG standards is challenging. Moreover, PDFs are especially tricky to handle due to their structural complexity. Making them compliant is time consuming and requires effort and a deep understanding of the WCAG and ADA standards.

Here are a few pointers on how to make PDF ADA compliant –

  • Ensure the text content is selectable
  • Create a well-structured content
  • Add a title and specify the language
  • Add bookmarks appropriately
  • Add precise alternate text to images
  • Caption the non-text content
  • Tag all elements correctly
  • Use high-contrast colors
  • Make links and forms descriptive
  • Ensure tables have a correct structure

PREP automates the creation of Accessible PDFs.

PDFs have a complex structure, making the WCAG and ADA remediation process very exhausting. Organizations must have the right tools to remediate their content and create accessible PDFs. Manual efforts to make PDF accessible or convert PDF to ADA compliant are time and effort-intensive and prone to human error. 

PREP is a PDF remediation tool that processes inaccessible documents and extracts data with the help of advanced AI technology. It ensures efficient data conversion into a logical format by understanding the context of each document. PREP also provides customized solutions for unstructured data.

The compliance guidelines undergo updates frequently, and these constant updates can make it challenging to keep up with compliance manually. However, the robust built-in PDF ADA compliance checker in PREP validates the document’s compliance with the WCAG and ADA guidelines. PREP can automate the remediation of complex documents in multiple formats at affordable prices and a quicker turnaround time.

Final thoughts

Creating accessible documents helps your organization in many ways –

  1. Adhering to compliance guidelines set by ADA, section 508 and WCAG
  2. Improving readability by assistive technologies
  3. Reaching a larger audience
  4. Establishing moral leadership
  5. Establishing an all-inclusive business strategy

One cannot emphasize the importance of PDF accessibility enough. When PDFs are marked up for accessibility incorrectly, people with disabilities may face navigation issues. The navigation problems result in non-compliance and heavy penalties of up to $150,000. Apart from all other benefits, your organization should make documents accessible because ‘it is the right thing to do.’

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