PDF’s are one of the most common barriers when it comes to the accessibility of a website. As the accessibility guidance on PDFs is so sparse (and the fact there is still such a need for them), we wanted to help support you in how to make a PDF as accessible as can be.
Regardless of the steps that are taken to ensure the accessibility of a PDF, there is still no guarantee that the document will be accessible on all assistive technologies, but Adobe and Microsoft Word have built in tools that can help.
Why PDF accessibility matters
PDF documents are used across various sectors, including education, government and healthcare. Failing to make these documents accessible can result in barriers for individuals with disabilities, hindering their ability to access essential information.
Tips for creating accessible PDF documents
When creating PDFs, use software that allows for accessibility features. Adobe Acrobat Pro and Microsoft Word (for creating PDFs) both offer tools for enhancing accessibility.
Properly structure your document by using semantically structured heading styles (e.g., H1, H2 etc) to create a logical document structure. Avoid using formatting, such as bold or italics for headings.
Just as with images on a web page, provide descriptive alt text for images in your PDFs. This is essential for users who rely on screen readers.
Ensure that any hyperlinks within the PDF have descriptive text that makes sense out of context. Avoid phrases like “click here.”
If your PDF contains forms, use form fields with labels and ensure they are properly tagged and labelled for screen reader users. Use the form creation features in your PDF software.
Logical reading order
Verify that the reading order of content is logical. The order in which content appears on the page should make sense when read aloud.
Include bookmarks and headings in longer documents. This aids navigation and allows users to jump to specific sections easily.
If you have tables in your PDFs, they require special formatting to be made accessible. To do this, you will need to ensure the tables in your document have header rows applied so assistive technologies can identify what the table is about.
Built in accessibility checker
Use accessibility checkers or tools like Adobe Acrobat’s accessibility checker to identify and fix potential issues in your PDFs.
If possible, have users with disabilities test your PDFs to ensure they are accessible.
Provide an alternative
You should be providing an accessible HTML version alongside the PDF to ensure all users are able to perceive the information you have presented. This way, no one is excluded from using your service.
Creating accessible PDF documents ensures that your content is available to everyone, regardless of their abilities. By following these guidelines and investing in accessible PDF creation tools, you can better provide equal access to information for all.