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Web Standard: PDF Accessibility Requirements


PDF file: a document saved in the Portable Document Format using Adobe Acrobat (or another such PDF creator). Typically, PDF files are opened using Adobe Reader. Content created and maintained in the WebCMS as a webpage is more accessible than a PDF file.

Internal file metadata: the metadata (Title, Author, Subject , Keywords, and Language Designation) that’s saved with the PDF file itself. Complete file metadata information optimizes search capabilities. e.g. title, subject key words increasing the chances of a higher search rank. 

Content Requirements

  • Content should be created in HTML or PDF, not both.  HTML is preferred for accessibility, especially for documents less than 5 pages.
  • When linking to a PDF, follow the PDF Linking Standard.
  • EPA, like all federal agencies, is required to meet Section 508 requirements.
    • Make the PDF content accessible and web ready BEFORE posting.
    • In the case of an urgent posting, the uploaded non-compliant PDF must later be replaced with an accessible and web ready PDF. 
    • All PDFs created, altered, or updated after 1998 must meet these requirements.
  • In order for PDFs to be 508 compliant and accessible, the following minimum requirements must be met:
    • Make sure your PDF text is machine readable - Do not post image-only PDF.
      • Whenever possible, avoid using a digitally signed PDF (locked file). Use /s/ or "original signed by" as a way to indicate a hard copy signature is on file. Ex: /s/ Charles Bert or Original signed by Charles Bert.
    • The PDF must be tagged to ensure accessibility. Tagging a PDF establishes logical reading order and structure. Learn more about tagging PDFs.Exit
      • Alt text is required for images. Alt text for charts, graphs, and other more complex images must fully describe the information displayed.
    • Internal file metadata is required.
      • To add internal file metadata to the PDF file, follow the metadata directions and complete these fields in the Document Properties description tab:
        • Title
        • Author
        • Subject
      • Set the Language designation. This enables screen readers to use the appropriate language.
      • Select Document Title from the “Show” drop-down box in the Initial View tab. If File Name is selected, browsers may show the filename instead of the document title.
  • In very specific circumstances the minimum requirements cannot be met (e.g., too technical, mathematical formulas, maps or other images). In rare cases like this, the PDF should include contact information for users in need of accommodation.
    • Contact information should be added as a text box in the PDF, on the front cover or first page of the PDF document.  Include the full URL or email address so it is visible on the page and do not add a hyperlink. This should be first in the document's reading order. 
      • ​Example: For assistance in accessing this document, please contact
    • A program office phone number or shared email address must be listed in the contact information.
      • It is highly recommended to use a shared mailbox instead of an individual EPA employee's email address. Possible contacts include your library, public information center, public affairs office or public questions/contact us shared email account. Whatever information you provide, the document should be traceable back to the program office which produced it.

About this Standard:

All EPA public web content must adhere to the EPA Web Standards, the U.S. Web Design System guidelines, and the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act.

Original effective date: 07/10/2013
Last approved on: 12/09/2020
Web Council review by: 12/09/2023 (or earlier if deemed necessary by the Web Council)