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Creating Accessible PDFs

Making sure a PDF in accessible can be quite tricky. This guide will walk you through the necessary steps to having an accessible PDF. 

Can I Edit in Word?

Most PDFs are created from text-based processors such as Microsoft Word. It is much easier to create an accessible Word document and then convert it onto a PDF rather than editing in Adobe. If you do not have the original Microsoft Word document, you can convert the PDF into one to edit or you can proceed with editing the document as a PDF.

The recommended program to edit PDFs and make them accessible is Adobe Acrobat Pro DC which is free for anyone on our campus to download.

If you would like to learn how to make scans into accessible PDF documents, please visit our Creating High Quality Scans page. 

ocr iconOCR Your PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC      

Every PDF should be OCRed (optical character recognition). This means that all words in the PDF are recognized as text instead of an image. If you can highlight any text on a PDF then the characters are recognized. If not, just click on the OCR tool in Adobe Acrobat and Recognize Text for the whole document. 

How to OCR a PDF

Accessibilty checker icon Accessibility Checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Acrobat has a built in Accessibility Checker that will point out any accessibility errors a document has. This can be accessed from the “Accessibility” tool located under “Protect & Standardize” in the More Tools section.

Simply click “Accessibility Check” and a report will generate that looks like this:

how to open adobe accessibility checker

From here, you can see if there are any accessibility issues present in the document

Tagging Content

Once your document has been OCR scanned, the next step is to tag the document. Tagging your document will identify different areas of the document such as the difference between a heading, text, and image on the document's page.

Just right click on “Tagged PDF – Failed,” click fix, and Acrobat will automatically tag your document for you. Acrobat does not check the reading order, so that will have to be done manually. You can access the Reading Order from the Accessibility tool, and that will allow you to add Headings and adjust the reading order if necessary. Having a tagged PDF will allow anyone screen reader users to navigate through the document seamlessly. Untagged PDFs make it difficult for screen readers to recognize a document.

You can also tag your PDF by clicking the Accessibility tool and selecting "Autotag Document" as shown in the video below.

  • Clip: How to Tag a PDF in Adobe Acrobat DC

    1.  Open Accessibility Tool
    2. Click on "Autotag Document"
    how to autotag a pdf
  • Clip: How to Add a Heading in Adobe Acrobat DC

    If your PDF originated in Word, it would be much easier to add headings in the Word document before converting to a PDF. If the PDF did not originate from Word, this video will show you how to add a heading in Adobe Acrobat DC.

    1. Open Accessibility Tool
    2. Select "Reading Order"
    3. Click on Structure Types
    4. Click on a box to change the structure type or use the cursor to highlight the text
    how to adjust reading order in adobe

Images and Alt Text

Alternative text, or “alt text” describes the content of images, graphs and charts for Screen readers and Braille devices. The descriptions should be 1 or 2 meaningful sentences that best describe the image to someone who cannot see it. Alt text can be added to all images using the Accessibility tool.

  1. Click Set Alternate Text
  2. A text box will appear for images that are missing descriptions. Type in a concise yet descriptive explaination of the image. 
  3. If an image is for decorative purposes only and does not require an alt text, simply check the Mark as Decorative box

how to add alt text in adobe

Color Contrast

Color contrast is another accessibility check that has to be done manually. Having insufficient color contrast in a PDF means that it contains text that may not be legible. This mainly includes have light colored text on a light-colored background or vice versa. Insufficient color contrast also applies to having a lot text that is green or red because color blindness is a common visual disability.

To edit the color of text with insufficient contrast, use the Edit tool, highlight the text, and change it’s color to something with better contrast.

For more on color contrast in documents visit Blackboard’s Text Contrast Page.