Inaccessible PDFs

The year is 2010 and most Swedish authorities have come a relatively long way regarding technical accessibility at their websites. This means that users with assistive technology can access most of the public information on the web. Maybe the content is difficult to find or understand, but most have at least a theoretical chance to access it. Or so we thought.

But then we turn to PDFs. Public sector websites are packed with them. And they are mostly inaccessible, impossible or very difficult to read. The problem is so widespread that many users of assistive technology, especially among the visually impaired, think that PDFs are completely disgraceful since they "never" work.

Funka has tested how it is. We selected seven major Swedish authorities and let users of assistive technology test the PDFs. The result is disappointing; of all surveyed authorities it is an exception if a PDF file is accessible. The sites are essentially technically relatively accessible, but the contents of PDFs will remain a secret to users with assistive technology.

When to use PDFs

It is not just the lack of accessibility in the files that is a concern, PDF is also used in an unfortunate way. Several authorities have headings that are called something like "My pages" where citizens can perform various services, but these do not link to e-services, but too often consist of PDF-forms to be filled in, printed and sent. 

Today, technology exists to allow users to do this in more user friendly and accessible web-based forms that are connected directly to the internal systems. Then, should not the country's major authorities lead by example and demonstrate the benefits of new technologies? That PDF-forms can be made accessible does not imply that PDF always should be used for forms.


Funding: Funka
Period: 2010

Funka‚Äôs report on accessibility in PDFs (in Swedish, pdf 175 kb), opens in new window 


Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer (Susanna Laurin)

+46 8 555 770 61 (Susanna Laurin)