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This decision tree can help you find the best format for your content.  The decision tree includes considerations such as cross-platform and device support and open versus proprietary standards in addition to accessibility support.

This is also available as a PDF for printing, thanks to Minghua Sun! Document Accessibility Decision Tree Infographic


1.     Is it a form?

1.1.    Yes

1.1.1. To be filled out on paper?              Yes:  Use PDF or Word

1.1.2. To be filled out electronically offline?              Yes: Use PDF

1.2.    No: go to 2.

2.     Is it more than 20 pages long?

2.1.    Yes:

2.1.1. Does it have complex diagrams, charts, tables, formulas?              Yes: Use EPUB 3              No: go to 2.1.2

2.1.2. Will there be high demand for it? (on a popular or timely topic)              Yes: Use HTML              No: Use HTML, PDF, EPUB 3

2.2.    No: go to 3

3.     Is it intended to be an editable document?

3.1.    Yes: Use Word (or Excel)

3.2.    No: go to 4

4.       Is it being published as a legal or historical artifact? (to show signatures, seals, handwritten notes, etc.)

4.1.    Yes:

4.1.1. Is it a document submitted by an outside entity that can’t be edited, such as a filing?              Yes: Use Create an accessible alternative              No:                     Use PDF from scan with OCR and tagging                     Use PDF as a download option for accessible primary.

4.2.    No: go to 5

5.     Is it intended to be printed out? (poster, brochure, etc.)

5.1.    Yes: Use PDF

5.2.    No: go to 6

6.     Is it very likely to be printed out? (complicated or detailed content)

6.1.    Yes: Provide PDF as a download option

6.2.    No: go to 7

7.     Will it never be viewed on mobile devices?

7.1.    Yes:  Actually, it will be; go to 8.

7.2.    No: go to 8

8.     It is 3 pages or less?

8.1.    Yes: Use HTML

8.2.    No: Use HTML, PDF, EPUB 3



Format descriptions


EPUB 3 is a distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents.  It defines a means of representing, packaging and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.  Version 3 incorporates the DAISY Consortium features and requirements for accessible e-books.

Originally a standard of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), it has also been published by the International Standards Organization as ISO/IEC TS 30135 (parts 1-7).

See Accessibility - EPUB 3 Resources and Guidance  for accessibility compliance information.


HTML is a markup language standard maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  HTML 4.01 was also published by the International Standards Organization as ISO/IEC 15445:2000.

HTML accessibility should be measured against the W3C’s Web Content Authoring Guidelines Version 2 .


Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format used to present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware and operating systems.  Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics and other information needed to display it.

Originally a proprietary format by Adobe Systems, Adobe released it as an open standard and it has been published by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 32000-1:2008.

PDF accessibility is defined by the PDF/UA standard.  Accessibility compliance can be measured by using the Matterhorn Protocol .

Word, Excel

Word refers to documents created using the Microsoft Office word processing software from Microsoft Corporation.   Excel are files created using their spreadsheet software.   .DOC and .XLS files use proprietary Microsoft formats.  The newer .DOCX and .XLSX files use the Office Open XML (OOXML) standard for Office documents that has also been published by Ecma as ECMA-376 and by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO/IEC 29500.

There are no bulk tools for testing accessibility or for checking links in Microsoft Office documents..



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