An accessible PDF requires an accessible foundation document. Please visit the Documents page to learn about creating accessible documents.

Once you have an accessible base for your PDF, there are a few steps you can take to keep your document accessible after the PDF conversion.

Note: The following processes are for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.  If using another version, the process may be different.  Please visit Adobe's guides for older versions of Acrobat for more information.

Introduction to PDF Accessibility

Creating Accessible Source Documents

  1. PDF accessibility depends greatly on the accessibility of the source document

    1. Both Microsoft Word and PowerPoint have accessibility checkers
  2. When saving as a PDF from Microsoft Word:

    1. Click "Save As" and change the document type to PDF
    2. In the dialog box, click Options
    3. In Options, ensure that "Create bookmarks using: Headings" is checked
      1. This option will not be available if there are no headings in the Word document
    4. create bookmarks from MS Word document when saving as a PDF
  3. When exporting to PDF from InDesign, click to include bookmarks

    1. Similarly to Microsoft Word, InDesign has heading styles that can be made into bookmarks in a PDF
  4. If you use a unique font, you can embed the font into the document

    1. Click on the Optimize PDF tool
    2. In the toolbar, click on Advanced Optimization
    3. In the dialog box, click on Fonts
    4. Choose fonts to retain or unembed
    5. retain or unembed fonts from a PDF
  5. To maximize editing ease, scan your document at as high a resolution as possible

  6. Enhancing scans a few times will result in a better scanned document, which is likely to be more accessible

    1. Note: This is not necessary for documents that are saved from Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc.
    2. Click on the Enhance Scans tool
    3. Click Enhance in the toolbar
    4. Choose Scanned Document from the drop down
  7. Use Export to PDF or Save As PDF, not Print to PDF

    1. Print to PDF removes much of the document's accessibility information, including information about headings and alternate text for images

Using Action Wizard

Under Action Wizard, select Make Accessible and follow prompts to add accessibility elements to your PDF.  Then edit the Tag Tree to finish making your document accessible.  For more information on the Tag Tree, open "Manually Making a PDF Accessible" and see step 11.

Manually Making a PDF Accessible

If not using Action Wizard, use the following steps to make your PDF accessible.

  1. Under Accessibility, choose Autotag Document

    1. If the document is already tagged, choose to either overwrite tags or skip this step
    2. different Adobe PDF tools, including Action Wizard and Accessibility Checker
  2. Set hyperlinks in your text

    1. Select Edit PDF
    2. Choose Link > Add/Edit Web or Document Link
    3. Draw a box around text or image for link
    4. Enter URL
    5. edit hyperlinks in a PDF

  3. Set ALTs (alternate text) for all images

    1. Open the Tag Tree: View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags
    2. Right-click on Figure tags to open Properties
    3. Edit Alternate Text
  4. Set decorative or background images as Artifacts

    1. Open the Tag Tree: View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags
    2. For Figures that should be decorative or background images, change the tag to read <Artifact>
    3. create artifacts for background images in a PDF
  5. Include transcripts or textual descriptions for all purely audio or purely visual media

  6. Use only captioned multimedia

  7. Check the document for color dependence

    1. Ask if the document uses color only to convey meaning
    2. Example of color dependence: "All red items are required"
    3. Example of no color dependence: "All red, bold items are required"
  8. Check the document's color contrast using Color Contrast Analyser or Color Contrast Pal

    1. Contrast should meet a ratio of 4.5:1 (foreground: background colors)
    2. Adjust colors as necessary in original document
  9. Ensure that the document has a title

    1. Under File, choose Properties
    2. Enter a Title for the document
    3. A title might be the first heading or name of the document
    4. set a PDF's document title
  10. Set the document's language

    1. Under File, choose Properties
    2. Choose Advanced properties
    3. Under Reading Options, set the document's language
    4. set a PDF's document language
  11. Check Tag order

    1. This is what a screen reader uses to determine how a document is read out
    2. Check that the tag order matches the logical reading order
      1. Rule of thumb for reading order: It should follow the order in which information appears visually
      2. If the tag order does not match the logical reading order, click and drag on tags to reorder
      3. For complex documents, you may have to add additional tags or delete tags
        1. Add a tag by clicking on the tag above where you want the new tag to appear
        2. Highlight information to be tagged
        3. Right click on the tag above where you want the new tag to appear
        4. Select Create Tag from Selection
        5. adding tags to a PDF's tag tree
        6. For images, you may need to create a new tag via the Reading Order panel
          1. Open the Reading Order panel: View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Order
          2. Right click on any item and open Show reading order panel
          3. Use the tool to draw a box around the area to be tagged and select the type of element
          4. Right click on the new item and select Tag as… with the appropriate tag
  12. Ensure that headings are correctly set in the initial document and are tagged appropriately

    1. Open the Tag Tree: View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags
    2. In Tags, move through heading tags (i.e. H1, H2, etc.) and paragraph tags
      1. Are any tags that should be paragraphs labeled as headings?
      2. Are any tags that should be headings labeled as paragraphs?
      3. Are any headings the wrong heading level? (i.e. a heading level 1 is labeled as an H2)
      4. Rule of thumb for headings: Typically, the bigger and bolder the heading is, the higher the heading level
  13. Create and edit any tables

    1. Using the Tag Tree
      1. Open the Tag Tree and find the <Table> tag
        1. create Table tag
      2. Nest Table Row <TR> tags under the <Table> tag. If <TR> tags are already nested under the <Table> tag, skip this step.
        1. First, create a new tag by right clicking on an existing tag.
          1. select New Tag via the Tag Tree
          2. create new tag: Table Row
      3. Your <Table> should now look like this:
        1. table row tags nested under Table tag
      4. Nest Table Header Cells <TH> or Table Data Cells <TD> under the <TR> tags. If <TH> and/or <TD> tags are already nested under the <TR> tags, skip this step.
        1. Your <Table> should now look like this:
          1. add Table Row and Table Data tags under Table Tag
      5. Highlight text, right click on the <TH> or <TD> tag, and choose Create New Tag from Selection.
        1. create tag from selection via the Tag Tree
      6. Continue until the <Table> is complete
      7. Proceed to Section 3: Setting Cell Type and Scope
    2. Using the Order Tool
      1. Open the Order tool
      2. Right click on any element in the Order tool to open the Reading Order Panel
        1. show reading order panel
      3. Draw a box around the table. This will cause all cells to be highlighted.
        1. table highlighted after selecting with the Reading Order Panel
      4. Choose “Table” from the Reading Order Panel
        1. after highlighting table, select Table tag in Reading Order Panel
    3. Setting Cell Type and Scope
      1. With the Reading Order Panel open, click on the newly created table
        1. Cell reading order shown via the Reading Order Panel
      2. “Table Editor” will appear as an option in the Reading Order Panel. Select it to edit the table
        1. select Table Editor in Reading Order Panel
      3. The table will now appear as cell types
        1. cell types shown via the Table Editor
      4. Right click on a cell to open Table Cell Properties
        1. choose Table Cell Properties
      5. Set the cell type (header or data cell) and, if the cell is a header cell, set the scope
        1. Hint: The cell’s scope will be what the header is describing. If it is describing a column, then the scope will be column.
          1. edit cell type and scope
      6. If the header cell is spanning multiple rows or columns, set the Row Span or Column Span under Attributes
        1. may have to adjust Row and Column spans
      7. Click OK to close the Cell Property Editor
  14. Run a full accessibility check via the Accessibility tool

    1. Fix any remaining problems
    2. In the full check, Reading Order and Color Contrast will ALWAYS come up as requiring manual review. This is because a machine cannot determine if reading order is accurate or if color contrast is compliant
    3. run a full accessibility check on a PDF

PDF Forms

  1. Select the Form tool

    1. Choose Prepare Form
    2. Choose the document from which to begin
    3. Use the Prepare Form toolbar to create form fields
    4. Double click on a form field to edit properties
  2. Use special formats for form fields: Adobe provides specific preset form fields for information like zip codes, phone numbers, and social security numbers

    1. Create a text field
    2. Double click on the text field to open Text Field Properties dialog box
    3. Click on Format
    4. Select the Special format category
    5. special format for form field; includes zip code, phone number, and social security number
  3. Fill out a form field's name and Tooltip: Both are essential for accessibility

    1. If a form field is a checkbox or radio button, the name should include both a summary of the question and the option
    2. Example: A question may read "What is your ethnicity?".  The response may include "Caucasian".  The option "Caucasian" would have a name property of "Ethnicity: Caucasian" and a Tooltip of "Caucasian"
  4. Autotag form fields by selecting the Accessibility tool

    1. Choose Autotag Form Fields to automatically add identified form fields to the tag tree

To learn more about creating accessible PDF forms, read this article from WebAIM or follow UConn's guide. Adobe also has a user guide for creating automatically-recognized form fields.

Watch This Video on PDF Accessibility

PDF Accessibility Service

PDFs are a useful tool and often used to share information with students and colleagues. If we’re not careful, however, we can unintentionally exclude members of our community by creating inaccessible PDFs.  For users with disabilities, elements such as images and static text can be barriers to getting the information they need.  

 To facilitate the accessibility process, ITS offers a service to take PDFs and make them accessible for users with disabilities and for assistive technology users.  The service is $15/hour.  For more information, contact itaccessibility@uconn.edu.


When do my PDFs need to be accessible?

  • No due date
  • Thoughtful, good faith effort: Progress, not perfection

Does my department have to purchase Adobe Acrobat for everyone?

  • No! We recommend purchasing one license for your department and putting it on a central computer
  • Alternatively, the library has Adobe Acrobat on its computers

There are so many PDFs! Where do I start?

  • Do some housekeeping: Take down outdated and unnecessary PDFs
  • Focus on public facing, highly trafficked PDFs
  • Prepare new PDFs accessibly

    I don’t have time to do this. What are my options?

    Last modified March 3, 2020