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Accessible PDFs

If you are creating documents in Word and the document can pass the accessibility checker within this program.  Currently there is no program or application that can automatically check and correct accessibility issues in a PDF. Note: A document can pass an accessibility checker and still NOT be compliant. Some accessiblity checks require human review. 

The accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC does NOT review the following:

  • Meaningful (tag) sequence
  • Meaningful headings
  • Meaningful text alternatives
  • Color Contrast
  • Non-text color contrast
  • Colorblind friendly color palettes
  • Proper scope for table headings
  • That every item has an assigned tag
  • The existence of the PDF/AU flag

Portable Document Files (PDF), have a standard for accessible compliance, PDF/AU.  This standard is consistent with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).  For UHD pages, PDFs should comply with WCAG 2.2 at the AA level. PDF Techniques for WCAG (W3.org)


Note: All employees of UHD should have access to Adobe Acrobat DC.

Recommended Work Flow for Creating Accessible PDFs from Adobe.com

  • Consider accessibility before you convert your document or PowerPoint presentation to PDF format. Create and check your source document or presentation for accessibility issues before saving or exporting to the PDF format
  • Check the tab order of the document or presentation and correct it if necessary
  • In M.S. Word, add accessibility features such as table of contents / bookmarks, ALT information to images, photos, graphics, etc... 
  • Tag the PDF 
  • Run the accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat DC and repair any found issues. 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Guidelines (for scanned documents)

Optical character recognition is the method used to convert a scanned paper document to a machine readable or accessible electronic version with text.  Adobe Acrobat DC can create OCR versions of scanned PDFs.  Note: scanned documents need to be made machine readable for accessibility. 


Fillable Forms

For faculty and staff of UHD, rather than create a PDF fillable form, request a form in Formstack or create one using Qualtircs.  Formstack and Qualtrics are online form / survey applications and have accessibility built-in to the program. This will reduce your time and effort in creating a form or survey.  UHD staff and faculty should have access to Qualtrics.  


PDF Remediation

PDF (Portable Document File) remediation is the process of correcting accessibility errors. Accessiblity errors make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to read, navigate and interact with PDF files.  Accessibility remediation and review of a PDF requires human evaluation.

Most Common Accessibility Issues Found in PDFs:

  • The document is not tagged
  • The reading order is not in order (tab order as well)
  • Tables are missing headers
  • Lists are not tagged correctly

"How To" Resources for Creating and Checking PDF Accessibility

What is the Reading Order in a PDF and Why Is It Important?

The reading order of a PDF document is important because the reading order determines how the document will be read aloud with a screen reader. If the reading order is incorrect, the document well not read in the correct order by assistive technology. Reading order requires manual check in Adobe Acrobat DC. The reading order tool in Acrobat DC is used to repair errors found in the Accessibility Checker report. For tips on using the Reading Order tool in Adobe Acrobat DC, visit Adobe's website.

What is a "Tag" in Adobe Acrobat DC Pro and Why Is It Important?

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC allows for elements of a document to be tagged according to their purpose. These tags are not displayed in the document. Tags are important because they are used by screen readers to understand the structure of the document

First check to see if the PDF is already tagged:

  • Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
  • View menu item at the top-left of the application
  • Go to "Show/Hide"
  • Choose "Navigation Pane"
  • Then choose "Tags"
  • The Tags Panel will display to the left of the document

If there are no tags, you will see "No Tags Available".

To Tag a PDF:

  • Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
  • Go to the Tools menu tab
  • Under the "Protect & Standardize" section, choose "Accessibility" or the Open button below this word
  • The Accessibility Pane will display on the right side of the document
  • Choose the first item "Autotag Document"

For more detailed information and videos on creating and modifying tags, visit Accessible PDF website.


Accessibility Guidelines for Tables in PDFs

Read about Tables and Accessibility to learn why tables can be problematic for accessibility for documents, presentations, emails, web pages, and PDFs. 

  • Avoid using tables for layout of content they can cause navigation errors with assistive technologies due to blank cells, spanned rows or columns or nested tables
  • Data tables can be simple and complex – break up tables into simple tables if possible
  • All tables should have headers and be tagged appropriately
  • Simple data tables should have 1 column header and / or a 1 row header to each cell ratio
  • The correct tags for table should have <table>, <TH>, <TR>, <TD>.

Saving to PDF from M.S. Word

Choose these options when you Save to PDF to maximize the accessibility of your Word document Use the Acrobat tab in Word’s Ribbon>Choose “Preferences” button and check the boxes for the following:

  • Convert Document Information, Create Bookmarks, add links, Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF.
  • And under the Bookmarks tab> Check Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks

Links to Instructional Videos on Correcting PDF Accessibility Issues

Reading Order Issues in Acrobat DC Pro

Resources for Correcting and Tagging Issues with Tables in PDFS

Making Projects Accessible PDFs in Adobe InDesgin