How do I make my PDF Accessible?

PDF accessibility is vast and complicated if you do not know where to begin. This post is going to explore real workflows and serve as a resource for specific troubleshooting of PDFs. Before we begin, we must understand a few basic principles.

Video – What makes a PDF Accessible?

What exactly is required for PDF Accessibility?

An accessible PDF is a document that can be used by anyone regardless of disability or technology barriers.

It can be accessed by the following

  • Screen reader programs like JAWS or NVDA
  • Text-to-speech technology
  • Braille Displays
  • Other Assistive Technology

    Accessible PDFs can be accessed on mobile devices, zoomed in 200% or more, or be navigated via voice or keyboard.

What level of compliance are you going for?

There are different levels of compliance typically categorized by the type of entity. For example, here is a list of different accessibility standards that documents can be made accessible too:

  • Section 508 Standards
  • WCAG 2.1 (A, AA, AAA) Standards
  • PDF / UA
  • HHS Standards

Most organizations strive for the baseline Section 508 standard, but I would encourage all businesses to strive for PDF / UA standards as it is more rigorous.

What do all the standards have in common?

What software do I need to make my PDF Accessibility?

The most important software required to make a PDF accessible is Adobe Acrobat Pro. The free versions of adobe will not allow you to make a PDF accessible.

Optional Software

What are PDF Tags?

Tags are the basis for accessibility within a PDF. Without proper tags, there is no accessibility. Tag elements provide semantic information for screen readers, control the reading order, and other important functions. An important first step is to determine if your PDF has tags.

In-depth post on what are PDF tags?

Does your document have tags?

The first thing we should do is check if your document has tags. The following post will explore how to view the Tags Panel in Adobe Acrobat:

Does my PDF have tags?

No my document does not have tags

The crux of PDF accessibility is having a document with proper tags. The following methods can help add tags to a PDF to begin making it accessible. Once tags have been added, additional methods can be applied.

The following workflows will help you add tags to your document

The following two options will aid in adding tags to your document. Each tool has different pros and cons. Typically you will use either the auto tag or action wizard and then clean up the tags using the reading order tool.

Clean up the tags using the reading order tool:

Yes my document does have tags

Great! Now we need to check and make sure everything is accurate and Accessible. The following steps apply to all accessibility standards:

Step 1

The PDF is tagged

Step 2

Set the MetaData

Step 3

Review color contrast

Step 4

Set the reading order

Step 5

Run the accessibility checker

Standards

Now that you have a mostly accessible PDF – you can check it against any of the given standards you would like.

  • Section 508 Standards
  • WCAG 2.1 (A, AA, AAA) Standards
  • PDF / UA
  • HHS Standards

Most organizations strive for the baseline Section 508 standard, but I would encourage all businesses to strive for PDF / UA standards as it is more rigorous.

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