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PDF Accessibility

Examples of different levels of PDF Accessibility:


Typically an image-only PDF where the document is scanned and saved as a PDF.

Example 1 - Yeats: A completely inaccessible document that has been photocopied and scanned.
Example 2 - A World of Love: A document which appears accessible but you are unable to select or copy the text.

Partially Accessible:

Document has been created by using the print to PDF option; the Adobe Printer; or a non-Adobe PDF converter.

Example 1 - Letter: Simple, one column text documents are typically usable with this level of accessibility.


Tags are implemented to identify sections of document, reading order, images, etc. The document is accessible for assistive technologies, smartphones, e-readers, and mobile devices.

Example 1 - Brochure for an online course: This document is tagged to ensure it can be read correctly when the text is re-ordered (see Verify Accessibility of PDF).
Example 2 - Adobe PDF Manual: Bookmarks have been implemented to allow for easy navigation.

Creating an Accessible PDF

PDF files are not typically created in Acrobat rather they are created in another program, such as Word or PowerPoint, and converted to PDF. Therefore the accessibility of the PDF depends on the accessibility of the original document. (WebAIM)

Ensure your original document is created accessibly. This includes using the following features:

  • Headings and Sub-Headings (H1, H2, H3, P, etc.)
  • Images have alt-tags
  • Tables include a top row that is marked as the “header row”
  • Hyperlinks are on one line of the document and include descriptive text.
    • Edit the hyperlink so that it contains a title of the link along with the link location.
  • Lists are created using the bullet/number list options
  • Use the columns tool rather than columns created using a table or tabs
  • Converting documents into PDFs

Using Adobe Acrobat:

  • Check Preferences for converting PDF
    • Go to Acrobat Ribbon / Menu, select Preferences
    • Ensure that “Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF” is selected
    • If you are choosing to have a security features enabled, make sure to leave the option checked for “Enable text access for screen reader devices for the visually impaired”
    • Use File > Save as Adobe PDF OR
    • Create PDF from the Adobe add-in ribbon

Using Word 2010 Built-In Converter:

  • Go to File > Save As
  • Under Save as type, select PDF for the format
  • Open Options and ensure that the “Document structure tags for accessibility” is checked

Checking Your PDF for Accessibility

  • Open your PDF document
  • Verify you are working with a tagged PDF: Go to File > Properties > Description tab

Tags Panel:

  • View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags
  • Go into options menu and select “Highlight Content” – this will highlight the content associated with a tag when you click on it
  • Shows you the elements of your document that have been labeled
  • Allows you to re-order, rename, modify or delete elements

TouchUp Reading Order:

  • Tools > Accessibility > TouchUp Reading Order
  • Once this tool is open, the content on the screen is enclosed in numbered boxes. This shows you the order in which the text of the document will be read / ordered
  • Note: if you don’t see the numbered boxes, you are probably working with an untagged PDF
  • To change reading order, open the Order Panel (View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Order, select Show Order)
  • Add alternate text to any images that aren’t already labeled
  • Verify tables are correctly labeled with the Table Inspector

Verify Accessibility of PDF:

  • Go to Tools > Accessibility > Quick Check to run a check for tags
  • Tools > Accessibility > Full Check will give you a detailed report and identify errors or possible issues in the document
  • Reflow changes the appearance of a PDF and reorders the text according to the reading order assigned via the tags. To access this feature go to View > Zoom > Reflow. Note: If your text does not appear in the correct reading order, you will need to look at the order of tags again.
  • Read Out Loud is the text-to-speech engine built into Adobe Reader. To access this feature go to View > Read Out Loud. You can use this feature to listen to a PDF document and verify that the information is in the correct order.