Fast, Reliable Services for PDF Accessibility

PDFs and Accessibility

Making accessible PDFs or fixing accessibility problems in existing PDF files can be a complex and highly variable process.

PDFs are typically created from a source document such as a Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, or Microsoft PowerPoint file, and then are exported into the PDF format. Alternatively, many PDF files are simply images of text that are created by scanning hard copy documents. Unfortunately, image-based PDFs are completely inaccessible as they are and require conversion into text using optical character recognition (OCR) software before they are accessible.

Because there are a wide array of source applications that can generate PDF files, creating an accessible PDF file can be a complex process and requires a variety of skills in both Acrobat and the original software in which the document was created. Because of this complexity, one important rule of PDF accessibility is that if you can replace a PDF with a web page or a Word document, you should. HTML documents offer similar functionality to PDFs, such as the inability of viewers to edit the document and the ability to control the way the document is displayed across devices and platforms. PDF accessibility can be complex, and fixing problems in a PDF document requires a high level of expertise that represents a significant investment in training and practice.

To create an accessible PDF from a source file, two things must happen. First, all accessibility best practices should be followed when creating the document in the original software. Secondly, the process of exporting to PDF must be done in a way that preserves the accessibility features of the original file. If either step does not occur, the resulting PDF will not be accessible.

If you have an existing inaccessible PDF file and no longer have access to the source file, it can be remediated for accessibility directly within Acrobat Pro, but it is not a simple task. Remediating a PDF file created from an inaccessible Word file, for example, takes much more time than creating an accessible Word file and then exporting it as a PDF.

Adobe Acrobat Pro is available for download for faculty and staff at CU Boulder at no cost and is required for certain processes to assess or improve the accessibility of PDFs.

Assessing a PDF for Accessibility

Accessibility is a continuum; the more accessible you want a document to be for all users, the more time and tools you will need for testing, the more knowledge you will need to understand and fix the problems, and the more expert help and training you will need to achieve complete remediation. Learning to achieve basic levels of PDF accessibility is possible without much specialized training; however, complete remediation of a document for accessibility is likely to require expert help or additional training. There are two standards generally used to assess PDF accessibility: WCAG and PDF/UA. Read more in Adobe’s overview of PDF accessibility.

Instructors: Please consult our Choosing Accessible PDFs for Your Course guidance for more tips on evaluating PDFs of readings for use in academic contexts.

To start, you may just want a quick test of your document to see how much remediation it may require. There are two basic tests that give you a baseline estimate of the document’s accessibility; passing them doesn’t guarantee full accessibility, but failing them definitely means that the document is inaccessible.

Leave a Reply