Creating Accessible PDF Documents

Creating a PDF from Microsoft Word begins with creating an accessible Word document. Prior to conversion, run the Microsoft Word accessibility checker to ensure the document is free of accessibility errors. Adobe Acrobat will import accessibility attributes, such as document language, headings, alt text and table properties, upon conversion.

Creating a PDF from Word Documents

How To: The easiest way to do this is to select File from the Home settings, choose Save As and select PDF. When saving, make sure to check the box "Document structure tags for accessibility" in the options menu.

Another option to use is the "Create PDF" under the Acrobat toolbar as seen below.

Checking Accessibility in Acrobat

Although it is much simpler to check accessibility in Microsoft Word first before transferring to Adobe Acrobat, there is a PDF accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat 8+ as well.

How To: Select Tools from the menu ribbon>Accessibility>Full Check>Start Checking.

The accessibility checker provides a detailed report of a document and its inaccessibility properties. To learn about each issue, click on the specific error in the accessibility report. Adobe Acrobat will provide clear instructions on how to fix each issue. Most normal accessibility issues shown in the checker are easy to fix with the automatic "Fix" selection by right clicking on the item in the panel, but some require a little more work.

Check Reading Order

Screen readers read a document from left-to-right and up-to-down. That means reading order is important for users with visual impairments. When content, tables, images or charts is out of order or a document is poorly organized, the reader can become confused to the meaning of the information. 

How To: Reading order should be checked with a Screen Reader such as NVDA or JAWS.

Check Color Contrast

Document colors must also be accessible, including font and background color, for individuals with visual impairments or color blindness. That means your documents must have appropriate color contrast ratios for users to distinguish between fonts and background color. Your documents must have a ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal-sized text (12 pt. font) and 3:1 for large text (14 pt. font). Additionally, color cannot be the only means used to convey meaning in a document. For example, a calendar cannot only use colors to identify certain types of events. 

How To: You can either download a Color Contrast Analyzer onto your computer. To check contrast, insert your foreground (text) and background colors into the contrast checkers. You will receive a ratio report that determines if your color choice meets accessibility standards.

Use the Action Wizard

The action wizard is a tool used in Adobe Acrobat Pro that allows a user to go through a document and edit it to meet certain accessibility criteria like title and headings. Although useful, it should not be the only tool used to check a PDF's accessibility. 

How To: Select Tools>Action Wizard>Make Accessible>Start