Creating an Accessible PDF


We want to make your document accessible to everyone, especially to people who use assistive devices. Below are some key components on how to make your document more accessible within your PDF.

  • Document Description & Title
    • The Document Description gives a screen reader user a summary of the document they are about to read.
    • You need to set a default document title for a screen reader to be able to scan and read out loud to its user.
  • How to Turn a Scanned Document into a PDF
    • Since a Scanned Document is an image you will need to do a few things to make it accessible to a screen reader user. Otherwise, none of the information on the document can be read by a screen reader.
  • Tab/Reading Order
    • The tab order will tell the computer the order that a user needs to go through as they are tabbing through the page. This is important to check so your text and images are not read out of order.
  • Document Tags
    • The document tags allow a screen reader to know if they are looking at an image, a paragraph, a heading, etc. This is important for hierarchy use.
  • Alt Text
    • This allows the screen reader to scan a description of tables, figures, or images that may be on the document.
  • Hyperlinks
    • The Hyperlinks need to have a clearly defined label of the destination of the link so that a screen reader can read them out loud when scanning the document.
  • How to Check Accessibility

Below we will go over each key component.

Document Description & Language

  1. Open up your PDF in Acrobat Pro.
  2. Then go up to the main software Ribbon, select File, and then select Properties.
  3. Under the Description tag, fill out both the Author and the Title of the PDF.
  4. In this same window go to the Advanced tag. In the “Reading Options” section, choose which language your PDF is in.
  5. Once you have done this, you can close the window.

How To Turn A Scanned Document Into A PDF

Recognizable Text

You need to check and make sure that the text in your PDF can be recognized by a screen reader. To do this:

  1. Use Ctrl (or Command) + F to open the search field.
  2. Next, search for a random word in your document.
    • If the word can be searched, your document has recognizable text.
    • If not, you will need to convert it to recognizable text.

Scanned Documents

Best Practices

Some things to keep in mind before scanning a document

  • Make sure the scanner and image have no dust, fingerprints, or material on it
  • Make sure the image is centered in the scanner bed and nothing is cut off
  • Once scanned, you should save your image as a TIFF or JPEG, this is so the document size isn’t too large

Make A Scanned Document Accessible

Note: Scanned documents are pictures, meansing any text in them cannot be read by a screen reader.

To make a scanned document readable you will need to use a tool called Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Note: For this tutorial, we will be using 2016 Adobe Acrobat Pro’s OCR.

  1. First, you need to make sure your scanned document is in PDF format.
    1. If this is not the case then open up Adobe Acrobat Pro, go to file, then create, and then choose PDF from a file.
    2. Browse through your computer then find and choose your scan and open it.
    3. This will convert it into a PDF.
  2. Next, select Text Recognition from the document panel, and then select “In This File”. A new window will appear. All you need to do here is select what pages you want Acrobat Pro to recognize and select OK
  3. After doing that go back into Tools and select the Action Wizard tab. Next, choose Make Accessible, some new options will show up. Find Recognize Text using OCR and select that.
  4. The program will want to save the document first if you have not saved it. Choose OK and save the document.
  5. A Window called Recognize Text – General Settings will appear. Here you will need to make sure that the document is in the correct language and the PDF Output Style is Searchable. Then select OK.

Your scanned image text should now be searchable.

Note: Make sure to use the available style and formatting tools provided within the program.

Tab/Reading Order

  1. Locate the Order icon in the Navigation Pane.
    • If you can’t find it, right-click the navigation pane bar and it should be an option called “order”. Selecting it should add it to the bar. Once you have selected it you should be able to see the reading order of your document.
  2. If you need to make adjustments to the order, grab, drag, and drop the tags in the Order panel.

Document Tags

  1. First, select the Tag icon in the Navigation Pane.
    • If you can’t find it, right-click the navigation pane bar and it should be an option called “tags”.
  2. You will need to expand all the tabs to see the exact order of the document.
  3. From here you can click and drag to reorganize the reading order.

Alt Text

When you hover over your image, you should not only see the file name but also a description of the image itself. If this description is not here, then something happened within the document before you converted it, and you will need to go back and fix it. Refer to Creating an Accessible Microsoft Word Document page to fix this.

Go into tools, then edit PDF, link, add or edit. Your pointer should change into a cross hair which you can then use to drag over the area to create a link. A new dialog box called “Create a Link” should appear. You can edit how you want the link to appear (with or without an underline and with or without a visible bounding box. You can also choose if the link should open up in a web browser or as a downloaded file to your computer. Make sure to add the URL to your link and then select OK.

To add in the URL, hit next and a new window called “Link Properties” appears. Go into the actions tab in the Link Properties window. Select from the drop menu what you want your link to do when clicked on. To open a URL, you need to select “open a web link”. Afterward, you will then select Add… and a new window will appear asking you to input the URL. Once you enter the URL, select OK twice; once in the “Link Properties” Window, then again in the “Create a Link” window.

If you want to edit a link go into tools, content editing, add or edit a link. Move your cursor to the link you want to edit. If you want to move or resize the link, select it once and use the edges of the bounding box to resize or drag the box to where you want it located.

If you want to change the link or how the link appears, double-click on the link, and a dialogue box should appear. Same as before, you can edit the appearance of the box and its URL.

How To Check

  1. Go to the Tools Panel.
  2. Check to see if there is a tab called Accessibility.
    • If not locate the Tools Pane. It looks like a small window with an arrow next to it at the beginning of the Tools Panel. In the drop-down, select Accessibility.
  3. With the Accessibility Tab open, look for Full Check and select it.
  4. This brings up a new window where you pick options, i.e. where the PDF is tagged, has no images, and has a reading order. It would be best just to leave everything checked and then select “Start Checking”.
  5. A window called Accessibility Checker will appear. From here you can look at an in-depth synopsis of your document’s issues.
    • Some of these issues can be fixed simply by right-clicking and selecting Fix. For others, you will need to go back into the document and manually fix it.

Note: You can rerun the check as many times as you would like simply by hitting “Full Check” again.


  • How to check and fix PDF accessibility issues
    Source: PopeTech

    To check and fix PDF accessibility issues, you’ll need certain knowledge and tools. A common software is Adobe Acrobat Pro, which has all the tools needed to make a PDF accessible. In this article, we’ll review the tools and steps you can take with Adobe Acrobat Pro to check and fix PDF accessibility issues.

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