5.4 – Accessible PDF Documents

Making PDF Documents Accessible

There are two ways to create a PDF:

  • converting a source file, like a PowerPoint or a Word document to a PDF or
  • scanning a hard copy of a document to PDF.

Converting a Document to a PDF

Mac users, unfortunately MS Office 2011 and previous Mac versions of MS Office cannot be converted to an accessible PDF. Please refer to: Ways to make an accessible PDF on a Mac.

Here are the steps to creating an access PDF from a Microsoft Word document or PowerPoint presentation:

  1. Start with a well structured, accessible word document or presentation.
  2. Click the File tab and select Save as. In the Save as type field, select PDF (*.pdf).
  3. Enter a file name in the File name field.
  4. Click on the Options button and make sure the Document structure tags for accessibility checkbox is checked.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Click Save.This will tag all of the text formatting so page headings and lists are correctly interpreted by a screen reader.

Scanning a Document to a PDF

When you scan a document, you essentially are taking a photo of it. Since a photo of text is not accessible, you will need to run optical character recognition on the scan. This will make the text on the scan readable (and selectable) by assistive technologies. Here’s how to run OCR on a PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro. There are many other OCR packages, but this is the one we use. Note: Adobe Acrobat Pro is not the same as the free Adobe Reader software.

  1. Open your PDF file.
  2. Open the Tools panel (click “Tools” in top right) and click “Recognize Text“.
  3. Click “In this File” and click the Edit button to adjust your OCR settings.
    1. Select the language of the text.
    2. For output style, choose Searchable Image for PDF Output Style and Down-sample to 600 dpi.
  4. Click okay when done.

Checking the Accessibility of a PDF

If you have Adobe Acrobat Professional, run an accessibility check on your PDF. Accessibility Checker in Adobe Acrobat ProYou can find the accessibility checker under the Tools panel on the right hand side.

  1. Click the Tools tab to open the Accessibility panel on the right hand side.
    • If you don’t see it there, click the View menu and select Tools > Accessibility.
  2. Select the Full Check button under Accessibility..
  3. The Accessibility Full Check window will open.
    • On the Report and Comment Options:
      • Check on Create Accessibility Report and Include repair hints in Accessibility Reports.
    • On the Checking Options section:
      • Name: Adobe PDF
      • Select All items to be checked.
  4. Click on the Start Checking button.
  5. The Accessibility Report will display.

Math & Science

Math and scientific notation and equations are not screen reader accessible in a PDF. The original source document from which the PDF came, should be provided to Disability Services to convert into a format usable by the student.

Advanced Accessibility Check: PDF Tagging tree

It is a good idea to also check the tagging of the PDF. PDF tags are like HTML tags. They define the structure of the page and are really important to assistive technologies trying to interpret the page.

If the Tagging icon doesn’t appear in the list of Navigation pane items, just right click on the Navigation pane and choose to display Tags.

If you understand HTML, you will be able to make sense of the PDF tagging tree. Check for the usual suspects. Are headings used in the proper order? Are lists formatted as lists? Is the Alt text appropriate?

Adobe Acrobat Reader

If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat Pro, the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software can do a Quick Check on the accessibility of your document. (PDF courtesy of JiscTechDis).


<< 5.3 – Accessible PowerPoint           5.5 – Activity 5A and Assessment >>

Attribution to Portland Community College and D2L Corporation

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