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.



How to make your PDFs accessible

Accessibility Checker Searchable Text Tab Order Doc PropertiesAlt Text

How to run the accessibility checker in Acrobat Pro
  1. Select the Accessibility tool on an open PDF.
  2. Select the Accessibility Check command to open the Accessibility Check Options dialog, and select/deselect the Report Options to save the results as an HTML file or attach the report to the document.
  3. Select a Category to modify the accessibility checking options.
  4. Select the Start Checking button to begin the full check.
  5. An Accessibility Checker panel will open on the left side to show any issues with the document.
  6. Click the arrows to receive a description of the items that passed or failed the check. Explanations can be found on https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/create-verify-pdf-accessibility.html?trackingid=KACNN

How to create searchable text in Acrobat Pro
  1. Open the scanned PDF in Acrobat.
  2. Go to Tools > Enhance Scan > Recognizable Text > In This File.
  3. Click Settings in the toolbar. The Recognize Text dialog box is displayed.
  4. In the Output drop-down list, choose Searchable Image or Searchable Image (exact) and click OK.
  5. Click Recognize Text in the toolbar.

How to set the tab order in Acrobat Pro
  1. Select the Accessibility tool on an open PDF.
  2. Select the Reading Order command to open the Reading Order Options dialog, and click Show Order Panel.
  3. Draw a rectangle around the content if there is not one already, then click the buttons below to categorize the items.
  4. Use the Order panel to drag items into the correct tab reading order for all of the pages of the document.

How to edit document properties in Acrobat Pro
  1. Choose File > Properties.
  2. Click each tab in the Document Properties dialog box to update information.
  3. Click the OK button.

How to add alt text to images in Acrobat Pro
  1. Activate the Accessibility tool on an open PDF.
  2. Select the Set Alternative Text command.
  3. Enter short but descriptive alternative text for each image.
  4. Note: Check the Decorative Image option if your image is decorative.
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