Is HTML or PDF better for accessibility?

When it comes to creating accessible documents, people are often faced with the question of whether to create an HTML page or an accessible PDF.

The answer to this question really varies depending on your existing skills, the current format of the content, and how you want to deliver the document. HTML and PDF formats are both good for accessibility when used properly, and can both be pretty aweful when used badly. If you create your html pages using tables, constantly use div tags instead of modern html5 markup tags such as nav, article, section or aside, and don’t add any alt text to your images, the results won’t be an accessible html document. Similarly if you generate your pdf with no preparation or from a program that doesn’t take accessibility into account, you won’t get an accessible pdf.

With this in mind, which option to go with really depends on you, and in particular your skill set and how do you want to deliver the content? If you have the ability to create modern standards compliant html5 code and web development experience, html can be a good solution with well developed accessibility standards. If however coding isn’t your thing, or you already have the content in a word document or similar format, then an accessible pdf is almost certainly going to be a better solution for both you and the end users. This is on the assumption however that you create the pdf properly using the right tools.

So what is the best way to create a standards compliant accessible PDF document? The PDF format was originally created by Adobe in the 1990s, so its no surprise that they also offer the best method to create accessible pdfs, in the form of Adobe InDesign. There are of course many other tools for generating pdfs ranging from MS Word to open source solutions, but none offer such a complete solution as InDesign.

So what makes InDesign good for creating accessible pdfs?
Whatever format your content is currently in, there is a good chance it can be brought into InDesign, and this can often be done fairly easily. Whether you have a .doc, .txt, .csv, or something else, InDesign can generally handle it. Often this can include many of the documents native features, for example in the case of a .doc file things like tables of contents, paragraph styles and more can be imported automatically into InDesign.

InDesign is also extremely good at creating accessible pdf content by default. Tables of contents can automatically generate pdf bookmarks, paragraph styles let you attach export tags to them, object styles can be used to speed up artifacting, and things like lists and tables are generated using standards compliant tags. In addition there are numerous other features in InDesign for improving your accessible pdfs further. For example the ability to customise object export options, set tab order for interactive form fields, add descriptive text to buttons and much more.

If you want to create accessible content for users, pdf is a good format, which can be made available online or attached easily to an email. By creating your pdf content properly in InDesign, you can ensure not only do your pdfs look great but are also easy to use for everybody.

So next time you see a pdf with poor accessibility features, bear in mind that not all pdfs are created equally, and this isn’t the fault of the pdf format.

For more details on creating accessible pdfs in InDesign take a look at our scheduled 1 day live course on Creating Accessible PDFs in InDesign or our pre-recorded course on creating accessible pdfs. If you are completely new to InDesign then you might first want to attended the Live Online InDesign Getting Started course either live online or the pre-recorded InDesign beginners course.

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