Why should I make my PDFs accessible?

Accessibility features make it easy for people with disabilities to access content using assistive devices (screen magnifiers and readers, speech recognition software, text-to-speech software, alternative input devices, and Braille displays). An accessible PDF benefits all users by making content readable and more easily navigated.

Characteristics of an accessible PDF

  • Searchable text: Assistive technology software relies on text that can be searched and edited. Scanned, graphical representations of text must be converted to searchable text using optical character recognition (OCR).
  • Labeled form fields with tab order: Interactive PDF forms should have a preset tab order that allows users to tab logically from one field to the next. Fields should contain accessible labels and be designed to prevent errors.
  • Navigational aids: Bookmarks linked to document headings allow users to jump to different sections without having to read the entire document. All links should be accessible through both mouse and keyboard.
  • Proper document structure tags: Document structure tags define the reading order of a document and help screen readers present content to users in a logical way. They also make it easier to resize and reflow a document for different-sized viewports. Document structure tags include headings, paragraphs, sections, tables, lists, and other page elements.
  • Alt text and tooltips: Alt text and tooltips help provide meaningful descriptions of non-text elements such as images and multimedia.
  • Proper use of color: Color alone should not be relied on to convey meaning, and color combinations should have sufficient contrast.

Document accessibility should begin in the native document format

—i.e., Word, InDesign, or another application—before the document is exported as a PDF.

The following can be done in native document applications to support accessibility:

  • Adding alt text for images
  • Defining structural headings, lists, and tables
  • Setting document properties like titles
Note: If the native document is not available, you can still make a PDF accessible, but it will take more manual work to tag the document after the fact.



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Alternative assessments

Faculty/instructors are encouraged to consider alternative assessments, such as projects and portfolios, without requiring proctored exams.

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