Create Accessible PDFs
How to create accessible PDFs with a checklist for all items you need to address.
This article applies to: Web Accessibility
First Steps for PDF Remediation
- Prune your site. Keep only what site visitors need. Get rid of outdated files.
- For the PDFs that you need to keep, see if you can turn them into simple online forms or web page content.
- If that isn’t possible, you must remediate your PDFs. You have several options:
- If you have the original source file, edit it in the original application, then transfer it to Adobe Acrobat and complete a full accessibility check.
- If you don't have the original source file, you can convert your PDF to Word and then finish remediation in Acrobat.
- If you don't have the source file, and your document does not convert to Word nicely, you must do the remediation in Acrobat.
Remediating PDFs for web accessibility can be more time consuming than creating a webpage. Complex PDFs, such as forms, are even more challenging to make web accessible. When possible, convert your PDFs to HTML web pages. PDFs should be smaller than 30-40KB.
For more information see:
- UX Stackexchange thread discussing the Pros and cons of pdfs.
- Thought.co’s article on Best Practices for Using PDFs on Web Pages.
- Equidox, a PDF conversion service, article on PDF vs HTML: Which is the Best Route to Reach WCAG Compliance.
Equidox vs. Adobe Acrobat
- Use Adobe Acrobat for 1-2 page PDFs.
- Use Equidox for larger (3+ page) documents, complex documents, or PDF forms.
Equidox is an intermediate level tool. It takes some knowledge about PDF accessibility in general and specific training in the tool to use it effectively.
Use SiteImprove's Accessibility Checker to identify issues in your PDF documents.
As Siteimprove updates its technology, it may flag more PDF accessibility issues. This could result in you having to fix a PDF more than once.
Siteimprove currently does not scan PDFs larger than 15MB.
The most efficient way to remediate a PDF is to correct accessibility issues in the original source file. This checklist shows how to fix your PDF starting from the original Word document or InDesign file. It also includes instructions to fix a PDF directly in Acrobat.
In cases where you don't have the original source file, you can convert the PDF back into a Word document and edit your document in Word. Some documents will convert well and others will not. For example, a document that was originally created in Word without too many design elements would be likely to give good results.
Once the documents are converted into PDF, run an accessibility check in Adobe Acrobat. If the original source file is unavailable, remediation can be done directly in Adobe Acrobat.
Checklist for PDF Remediation
This section lists the steps to create an accessible PDF. Instructions and video tutorials will show you how to create accessible documents in Word, InDesign, and Adobe Acrobat. For a more detailed and comprehensive list of accessibility recommendations refer to WebAIM’s WCAG checklist.
- Proper and Meaningful Title
- Set Document Language
- Add Tags to a PDF
- Alternate Text for Images
- Heading Structure
- Format Embedded Links
- List Structure
- Table Structure
- Tab and Reading Order
- Color Contrast
- Use Simulators to Verify Your Document