Framework Accessible Online Documents

1 - User Friendly

html document displayed in devices of different screen sizes

A. Think about the format

Wherever possible (and that should be the majority of times), your documents should be published as an HTML webpage. It’s the best way to reach as many people as possible and maintain excellent user experience through out the full range of devices and screen sizes.

Documents like PDFs make your content harder to find, use and maintain. It can be difficult for users to customise them for ease of reading, and often they do not work very well with assistive technologies like screen readers.

The default should be to create all content in HTML. If you can’t avoid publishing a PDF, ideally it should be in addition to an HTML version and the PDF must meet accessibility standards and archiving standards.

Problems with PDFs

  • They do not change size to fit the browser
  • They’re not designed for reading on screens
  • It’s harder to track their use
  • They cause difficulties for navigation and orientation
  • They can be hard for some users to access
  • They’re less likely to be kept up to date
  • They’re hard to reuse

Why do people use PDFs?

  • They’re quick and easy to create
  • Control over the design
  • They’re easy for people to download and print
  • They have the feel of a stand-alone product
The Government Digital Service page Why GOV.UK content should be published in HTML and not PDF explains in depth the problems with PDFs as well as the misconceptions of why people prefer them.

B. Keep the language simple

Write in language that’s as simple as possible.

Simple language makes your document accessible to people with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities.

And research shows that everyone prefers simple language, including specialist audiences, because it allows them to understand information as quickly as possible. Evidence of the research can be found in:

Where you need to use technical terms, abbreviations or acronyms, explain what they mean the first time you use them. For example, National Insurance (NI).

C. Keep the document simple

Give the document a meaningful title.

Keep sentences and paragraphs short.

Make sure the text is left aligned, not fully justified (edge to edge).

Avoid underlining, except for links.

Documents with single, continuous columns of text are easier to make accessible than documents with a more complex layout.

Avoid footnotes where possible. Provide explanations inline instead.

Avoid images containing text, as it’s not possible to resize the text in the image.

D. Give the document a structure

Break up your document to make it more readable.

Use bullet points, numbered steps and meaningful subheadings.

Do not use bold to mark up subheadings. Use styles to create a hierarchy of headings: ‘heading 1’, ‘heading 2’ and so on (also a very important part of the ‘regulatory’ accessibility factor).

Use single TAB instead of spaces for paragraph indentations.

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