how to make pdf accessible

PDF is one of the popular formats used to publish web documents as they maintain a common look and feel despite the device used to view them. Sadly, most of these documents do not comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act,  requiring all ICT to be accessible to disabled persons.

A non-compliant PDF document will be inaccessible to specially-abled persons who rely on assistive technology like speech-to-text and screen readers to access web content. Therefore, every author should take responsibility to ensure their PDFs are accessible and conform to Section 508, and we will show you to create these documents.

Who Does PDF Accessibility Affect

A PDF document is accessible if persons with disabilities can use it efficiently. These persons include those with mobility impairments, low vision, and blindness. Through accessibility, such persons can use PDFs with or without magnifiers, braille printers, and screen readers

How to Create Accessible Documents: PDF Accessibility Best Practices

PDF accessibility is an important step in ensuring everyone understands the content in your document. Below are some PDF accessibility best practices.

Use Authoring Tools That Support Accessibility

Using PDF editors such as Adobe Acrobat Pro DC that support accessibility will allow you to add accessibility features and test your PDF’s accessibility.

how to make a pdf accessible

Set The Document Language

A PDF document with multilingual support will be challenging for persons with impairments to perceive, especially if the language is unspecified for them to recognize. To resolve this issue and ensure accessibility, mention the default language explicitly.

Tag the PDF Document

Tags help organize your content in a PDF document by providing structure, making it easier for assistive technology to navigate and read. To tag your PDF document, navigate to View>Tools>Tools>Accessibility>Add Tags to Document and use the tags panel to adjust and verify your document structure.

Tags You May Use

PDFs feature fewer basic tags to convey their format and structure. You can review a PDF tag through the tags panel, which is a separate view of your document accessible through the View>Show/Hide>Navigation Panels>Tags. On this panel, you will see the different types of tags, including:

  • Heading Tags
  • List Tags
  • Paragraph Tags
  • Link Tags

Ensure Image Accessibility

An image-only PDF is limited to readers using a screen reader or text-to-speech tool, and you should convert your image content into text to accommodate such readers. You can fix image-only PDFs with Acrobat DC.

how to make pdf accessible
Source: Illinois State University
how to make a pdf accessible

Avoid Using Generic Hyperlink Texts

Hyperlinks in PDF should be meaningful, describing where the link goes. For PDF accessibility, avoid generic texts like read more, click here, which can confuse your visually impaired users. Instead, edit the texts for your hyperlinks to include descriptive link texts, such as “Download the guide,” which informs the reader where the link will take them.

Use Table of Contents

A table of content ensures easy navigation of the document. Use the Create PDF Table of Contents tool in your editor to add a table of contents to your document, ensuring proper tagging with clear headings for every chapter.

how to make a pdf accessible

Check Color Contrast

Proper color contrast is beneficial for users with visual challenges. Consider texts of high contrast color, such as black or dark blue, against a light background and avoid light text on a dark background, as this can make reading challenging.

how to make pdf accessible

Provide Accessible PDF Forms

An accessible PDF form should have the following features:

  • Unique name for all form fields
  • Tooltips for all form fields
  • Appropriate visual and non-visual indicators
  • Correctly tagged form fields
  • Logical reading and keyboard navigation order
how to make pdf accessible
Source: Southeast Missouri State University

Use Accessible Fonts and Formatting

Using accessible, easy-to-read fonts when creating a PDF document is advisable. Therefore, consider fonts like Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana, with clearly formatted headings, subheadings, and bullets to help your users easily navigate the document.

Ensure the Document Has a Clearly Defined Language

A clearly defined language in your PDF document will ensure your screen readers pronounce the content correctly. To define your PDF document language, select File>Properties>Advanced and select the document language through the Language combo box.

how to make pdf accessible
Source: University of Detroit Mercy

Add Metadata and Title

Adding metadata and titles to your PDF document will improve accessibility by reducing confusion. Accompany your titles with a brief description of the content in your document.

Use PDF Annotation & Review Tools

Afte you’ve implemented all the best practices listed above, it’s worth reviewing it with your team and some external stakeholders, like the end user, to ensure the PDF document is truly accessible.

That is where PDF annotation and review tools come in. This software allow you to markup documents, highlight, and leave comments to give contextual feedback.

An example of a PDF annotation tool is zipBoard. The browser-based PDF markup tool makes it easy to share PDF files with relevant stakeholders and collect valuable feedback, manage reviews within your team and track the progress as you go.

Remediating PDF Documents

PDF remediation entails tagging the digital elements in a PDF document to ensure readability through assistive technology. The tags identify the elements and inform the technology of the order they will read. To remediate a PDF document, follow the steps below:

  • Convert your PDF into a Word document
  • Tag the tables, alt text, headings, links, lists, and reading order using Adobe Acrobat Pro in the panel.
  • The remediation report will note any non-compliant item
  • Validate the pages and save a copy of your document

Automating the above process is possible with the help of Adobes, as they can identify and correct any accessibility issues in your document. However, these tools will work well in documents with fewer elements and may not be the best option, as automating a document with many elements can prove challenging in certain instances. In the latter cases, invest in PDF remediation software, such as Acrobat Pro DC, or leverage a PDF remediation service. 

The PDF remediation checklist includes the list structure, tab and reading order, heading structure, list structure, color contrast, table structure, format embedded links, bookmarks, and alternate text for images.

Increase Accessibility for Seamless Digital Experiences

Making your PDF document accessible entails ensuring it is well-structured and tagged correctly. This way, specially-abled persons can use assistive technology to access the information in the document. Therefore, for seamless digital experiences, consider the above practices in compliance with accessibility guidelines and standards.

how to make pdf accessible
David Gevorkian  CEO/Founder, Be Accessible

David started Be Accessible because of his passion for website accessibility and ADA compliance. He spent much of his career working for financial institutions creating websites and mobile applications. He earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. David is an advocate for creating web interfaces usable by all people. He enjoys recording music and playing soccer with friends.

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