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Tips for Creating Accessible PDF Documents

Accessible PDF documents can be used by people with disabilities, such as those who are blind or have poor vision, deaf or hard of hearing, mobility impaired or have cognitive impairments. To make a PDF accessible, you need to modify your content, which we’ll explain in this blog post.

It’s best to think about accessibility while you’re creating content as opposed to when you’ve already turned your content into a PDF. Doing so will make your document that much easier to modify once you convert it to a PDF.

However, there are still many things that you can do to make a document, whether it’s a Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, HTML or other type of file format, accessible once it becomes a PDF. Let’s take a look at how you can create an accessible PDF document.


Tips to Consider When Developing Content

Here are some things to consider as you develop content, which will make it easier, in the long run, to turn it into an accessible PDF.

  • Importance of Accessible PDF DocumentDon’t rely on color or sensory characteristics alone to convey meaning, and don’t use flashing or blinking elements
  • Use color combinations that provide a sufficient degree of contrast
  • Add controls for audio so the user can control pause, play, and volume
  • Have users initiate changes
  • Provide consistent navigation
  • Consider the items in the rest of the blog post as you’re developing content


Make All Text Searchable

All text, including text inside graphics, pictures or other images, must be searchable. Assistive technology software can’t read or extract the words if they’re inside of a visual. You can change this by removing the text from inside the image and saving it as a separate item like a text box. How you go about this will depend on the software that you’re using.

What’s even better for accessibility is using text instead of images of text, although sometimes a visual is the best approach for clarity’s sake.


Use Fonts that Allow Characters to Be Extracted to Text

Use only Unicode fonts, as they provide the most flexibility. The fonts in an accessible PDF must contain enough information for Acrobat to correctly extract all of the characters to text for purposes other than displaying text on the screen.

Using Unicode fonts, which are plentiful, is the best way to ensure that you can extract text.


Make Form Fields Interactive with Accessible Error Messages and No Timing

If your PDF contains form fields a user can fill out online, make the fields interactive—meaning a user can enter values into the fields. To be accessible, form fields must be interactive. Interactive PDF forms also have a defined tab order, which allows users of assistive technology to use the Tab key to progress from one form field or interactive control to the next logically. Also, don’t set a time limit to fill out the form.


Use Acrobat’s PDF Navigational Features

Accessible PDF DocumentAcrobat has several different navigational features, such as links, bookmarks, headings, table of contents, and a preset tab order for form fields. These features help all users use the document more efficiently without having to read or scroll through the entire document to find what they’re looking for.

Bookmarks, which can be created from document headings, are especially useful. Users can interact with a PDF through these navigational features by using a keyboard, so there’s no need to rely on a mouse. Allow readers to choose how they go about navigating content.


Specify the Document’s Language and Title

Suppose you specify the document’s language in the PDF properties. In this case, some screen readers can switch the current speech synthesizer to the appropriate language to provide the correct pronunciation of content in different languages.

Providing a document title allows the user to locate and identify the document.


Don’t Use Security Features that Will Interfere with Assistive Technology

Some authors of PDFs restrict users from printing, copying, extracting, editing or adding comments to the PDF. However, to be an accessible PDF, the text must be available to a screen reader.

Acrobat’s security settings can be set to protect the document’s content while not interfering with a screen reader’s ability to convert the on-screen text to speech or Braille.


Structure a Document’s Tags and the Proper Reading Order

A screen reader or other text-to-speech tool requires the document to be structured to read a document’s content and present it in a way that makes sense to the reader.

Document structure tags in a PDF define the reading order and identify headings, paragraphs, sections, tables, and other page elements. The document’s tag structure also allows documents to be resized and reflowed for viewing at larger sizes and on mobile devices.


Use Alternative Text Descriptions for Non-Text Elements

Some types of content such as images, interactive form fields, and audio and video elements can’t be understood by the screen readers’ user unless they have associated alternative text.

Though link text is available to screen reader users, it’s possible to provide even more meaningful descriptions by setting alternative text, which is quite helpful for things like images and tooltips.


For More Information

If you need to make your website, courses or documents accessible, GPI offers several services: PDF accessibility, PDF verification, PDF remediation, PDF tagging, accessibility solutions, accessibility testing, Section 508 testing, InDesign tagging, Microsoft Word tagging, Quark tagging, ADA testing, and testing for accessible EPUB3. Contact us to learn more about these services.