Create Accessible PDF Documents


PDFs can provide an accessible way to deliver content. They allow people to share documents created in practically any software with someone who does not own that software. If not created correctly, though, they can be completely inaccessible to people who use screen readers and present barriers to many more. The following best practices are provided to help you maximize the accessibility of your PDFs.


When you hear the phrase "accessible PDF", that is usually referring to a "tagged" PDF. PDF tags provide a hidden structure that represents PDF content, such as headings and alt text for images, and is presented to people using assistive technology such as screen readers. There is more to an accessible PDF file than tags, but an untagged PDF would not be considered accessible.

PDFs are typically created in one of three ways:

  • They are generated from scratch
  • They are created from a source document first, such as Microsoft Word, and then converted to a PDF
  • They are scanned from a physical book, article, etc.

Tips for Getting Started

  • Start with an accessible source document, such as MS Word. By following the steps in the Create an Accessible Word Document article, you will be well on your way to creating an accessible PDF.
  • If the original source document is not available, you can add accessibility features using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
  • If you do not have access to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, but need help making a PDF accessible, please submit a Digital Accessibility Service Ticket.

Checking PDFs for Accessibility

The following checklist will help you check your PDF for accessibility. You will need Adobe Acrobat Pro DC in order to complete each item in this checklist. You may also use WebAIM's tutorial on PDF Accessibility as an accompaniment to the following checklist.

Step 1. Does the document have text?

How to test: Try selecting text using a mouse by clicking and dragging your mouse across the text. Or, select all text by going to Edit > "Select All" from the Acrobat menu.

If your PDF does not have text, this is an image file and is not accessible. In this case, find your Tools > Scan & OCR, then in the top menu, select Recognize Text > In This File.

Step 2. Is the PDF tagged?

How to test: Go to File > Properties. In the bottom left corner of the dialog box, see the "Tagged PDF" field.

Document properties dialog box, tagged PDF is highlighted at the bottom indicating that it is not tagged.

If no, the document needs to be tagged. Remember, tags provide structure to the document that is the foundation of making a PDF accessible.

For more information on tagging PDFs, visit WebAIM: Tags Pane.

Step 3. Check for additional errors

Run the accessibility checker that is built in to Acrobat Pro. Select Tools > Accessibility > Accessibility Check > Start Checking. All of the checkboxes should be selected correctly by default.

NOTE: You can add tools to your toolbar by selecting the Tool tab and adding a shortcut to your toolbar.

The report lists items in various categories such as Document, Page Content, Forms, Alternative Text, etc. You can click on the arrow next to each category to expand the list of items. Each item is preceded by an icon indicating that the item either passes, fails, or requires manual inspection.

Accessibility checker options in Adobe Acrobat. Showing option to expand a category

Remediating PDFs and making them accessible can sometimes take a lot of work and a deeper understanding of how to manipulate the tools in Adobe Acrobat. Please visit the resources below for additional information or to speak to an expert here at UCO, submit a Service Request.




Article ID: 111081
Tue 6/30/20 1:59 PM
Mon 5/9/22 10:46 AM

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