Technology Background

PDF vs HTML: Which is the Best Route to Reach WCAG 2.0

Posted by David MacDonald, President CanAdapt Solutions Inc. on May 30, 2016

PDF vs HTML: A fork in the roadWhether you work for a government agency, educational institution or for-profit business, your organization is likely en-route to destination WCAG 2.0 AA — the W3C’s standard for web accessibility. During your journey, you’ll probably encounter many crossroads.

PDF vs HTML: A Fork in the Road

Deciding whether to remediate PDFs or to migrate them to HTML is one such fork in the road. That’s why in this article I’ll examine five key considerations that will help you determine the best path to WCAG 2.0 AA conformance and, ultimately, web accessibility for all.

1. Mobile

HTML is more mobile-friendly, which is important since today users have multiple types of devices. Unfortunately for the PDF format, it’s nearly impossible to provide a responsive design for a PDF document that is opened using a mobile device.

2. Security

Many organizations choose the PDF format because they feel it provides tighter security than HTML. However, security options such as password-protection and forbidden document copying apply only to Adobe products. An abundance of free tools exist that can open and edit a “secure” PDF file without adhering to Adobe’s security settings.

3. Time

Remediating PDFs in-house is hard work — and requires experience with Acrobat. Most PDFs are not properly tagged. This makes manual remediation challenging and time-consuming since the tag tree in Acrobat is complicated. Moreover, converting a PDF file using manual processes does not guarantee that the information is fully accessible — or conforms to the WCAG 2.0 standard.

4. Required Skill

The only commercial desktop tool for editing the tag tree is Adobe Acrobat and it requires significant skill and knowledge. There is no “undo” control in the tag tree, and it should be reserved for the most technical and patient employees, or external professional PDF remediation houses. On the other hand, WCAG remediation of HTML content is generally straightforward.

5. Browser Behavior

In most browsers, PDF files open in the browser itself by default rather than in Adobe Reader. Therefore PDF tags may not be brought over, making them inaccessible even if they were properly tagged. Also, PDF fillable forms are no longer fillable when opened in a browser.

Other interactive functionality is also removed by the browser, including reporting to the Accessibility API. A visually impaired person using a screen reader must open a PDF file in Adobe Reader or he or she cannot access the content.

So you may ask yourself: Is HTML the best route to reach destination WCAG 2.0 AA? Today, the answer for many organizations is “yes”, even for content that is currently only available in PDF. PDF to HTML conversion isn’t difficult using new tools such as Equidox. The goal of web accessibility is indeed attainable. For most PDF content, converting to HTML is a big step in the right direction.

About Onix

Onix is also committed to accessibility for persons with disabilities, helping organizations create accessible web content. Its product Equidox converts PDF to HTML that conforms to the WCAG 2.0 AA standards. The company is currently in the process of making its main website more accessible. Onix’s accessible website for the product can be found at

Topics: Equidox


Equidox Helps With Easy PDF to HTML Conversion and WCAG 2.0 Conformance

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David MacDonald, President CanAdapt Solutions Inc.

David MacDonald, President CanAdapt Solutions Inc.

David MacDonald is the president of CanAdapt Solutions Inc. ( David is a veteran invited expert on the WCAG Working Group (since 2002). He is also a member of the Mobile Task Force, WCAG Evaluation Methodology, and the editor of Using WAI-ARIA in HTML5. He has provided accessibility audits and training for dozens of Fortune 500 companies and Government departments in Canada, the US and Australia. He is a member of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) Certification committee.