PDF stands for “portable document format.” PDF documents display their original layouts and styles regardless of the operating system or application used to display them (hence the “portable” part).
PDFs are really intended for printing and they can contain numerous barriers for people who use assistive technologies. Whenever possible, try creating an HTML alternative to your PDF.
Tags create the true reading order for screen reader users. That is why they are the most important part of PDF accessibility. PDFs without tags are not very accessible. PDFs with poor tag structure are also less accessible than they could be.
If it’s helpful, think of tags in little like HTML. When we see a PDF document, we visually perceive all of its information, layout and styles. Tags are what creates the underlying semantic structure and makes it all usable and meaningful to assistive technologies.
Converting Files to PDF
Start with the source document
Before converting a file into a PDF, be sure all accessibility requirements are met first. Design all documents with accessibility in mind using the Basic Techniques. Double check your work by using the accessibility checker tool. Once all errors are fixed, save your changes.
Avoid using ‘Print to PDF’
Always use ‘Save As PDF’ or ‘Export to PDF.’ These options preserve the accessible features of the document and generate tags. Print to PDF creates PDFs without tags, which is far less accessible.
Cleaning up a recently converted PDF
Even if we design documents that meet all accessibility requirements, there can be issues after converting to PDF. Run the Check Accessibility tool to identify issues in 7 key areas.
- Page Content
- Alternate Text
Acrobat Pro Quick Tips
- Run the Accessibility checker and use the report to guide you.
- PDFs must include tags.
- Use the tags tree to check reading order.
- Add alt text to all graphics, mark decorative where appropriate.
- Embed hyperlinks in descriptive, purposeful text.
- Ensure that heading and list tags are used logically and create structure.
- Make sure bookmarks match navigation structure like headings, lists, links, images, etc.
- Avoid layout tables.
- Avoid blank and merged cells.
- Include table headers.
- Include metadata like title, language, author, keywords, etc.
Acrobat and PDF Resources
- Adobe Acrobat and PDF Accessibility Essentials, recorded workshop [video]
- Adobe Acrobat and Accessible PDF Forms, recorded workshop [video]
- How to Make PDFs Accessible [video]
- Create and Verify PDF Accessibility [official guide]
- Understanding the Tags Tree [article]
- PDF Accessibility [article]
- Make PDFs More Accessible [article]