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Creating accessible PDF documents ensures that individuals with disabilities can access and understand the content effectively. Accessible PDFs provide proper structure, navigation, and alternative text for images, making them usable with assistive technologies such as screen readers.

PDF Accessibility Guidelines

When creating accessible PDFs, it’s essential to follow established guidelines. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 provide valuable recommendations for PDF accessibility:

  • WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 1.1.1: Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 1.3.1: Info and Relationships: Use semantic structure to convey the document’s organization.
  • WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 2.4.4: Link Purpose (In Context): Ensure meaningful links with clear and descriptive text.
  • WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 2.4.9: Link Purpose (Link Only): Avoid ambiguous link text that may not make sense out of context.
  • WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 3.1.1: Language of Page: Indicate the language used in the PDF document.

Creating Accessible PDFs from the Start

It’s best to create accessible PDFs from the beginning to ensure proper structure and content organization. Here are some essential steps:

  1. Use an accessible source document such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign.
  2. Apply proper headings, lists, and formatting in the source document.
  3. Ensure sufficient color contrast for text and background elements.
  4. Add alternative text to images and other non-text content.

Adding Tags and Alternative Text to PDFs

Tags play a vital role in PDF accessibility by defining the structure and order of content. Here’s how to add tags and alternative text:

  1. Open the PDF document in Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  2. Select “Tools” from the menu and choose “Accessibility.”
  3. Click “Add Tags to Document” to analyze the structure and add tags automatically.
  4. Review the tags and make any necessary adjustments to ensure proper reading order.
  5. Assign alternative text to images and other non-text elements using the “Touch Up Reading Order” tool.

Optimizing PDF Accessibility for Screen Readers

To enhance the accessibility of PDFs for screen reader users, consider the following optimization techniques:

  • Ensure proper reading order by using tags and structure correctly.
  • Include bookmarks and headings for easy navigation within the document.
  • Provide descriptive link text for hyperlinks.
  • Use table headers to associate data cells with their corresponding headers.
  • Verify the document’s language settings for accurate pronunciation and reading.

Testing PDF Accessibility

After creating an accessible PDF, it’s crucial to test its accessibility to ensure compliance with guidelines. Consider the following testing methods:

  • Use assistive technologies like screen readers to review the document’s readability and navigation.
  • Verify that all images and non-text elements have appropriate alternative text.
  • Check the color contrast of text and background elements using online tools.
  • Ensure that links are descriptive and meaningful both in and out of context.
  • Validate the document using accessibility checkers like the Adobe Acrobat Pro Accessibility Checker.

Remediation Steps for Microsoft Word

When starting with a Microsoft Word document, follow these steps to create an accessible PDF:

  1. Use built-in heading styles to structure the document.
  2. Apply alternative text to images and other non-text elements.
  3. Ensure proper reading order by using the “Navigation Pane” to adjust the document’s structure.
  4. Check for proper table headers and data associations.
  5. Save the Word document as a PDF with accessible options enabled.

Remediation Steps for Adobe InDesign

If your source document is created using Adobe InDesign, consider these steps for accessibility:

  1. Use appropriate paragraph and character styles to structure the content.
  2. Apply alternative text to images and other non-text elements.
  3. Verify the proper order of content using the “Articles” panel.
  4. Ensure table headers and data associations are correctly defined.
  5. Export the InDesign document as a tagged PDF with accessibility options enabled.


Creating accessible PDF documents is essential for ensuring equal access to information for individuals with disabilities. By following guidelines, adding tags and alternative text, and optimizing for screen readers, we can make PDFs more inclusive and accessible. Testing and remediation processes help ensure compliance with accessibility standards. Whether starting from Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign, following the recommended remediation steps helps create accessible PDFs from the start.