How to Create and Confirm an Accessible PDF Document

Accessible PDF Tips

Developing an Accessible PDF Document

PDFs can be created from a number of digital files. This page outlines some major issues that often arise in the creation of accessible PDFs. We highly recommend that you review our Accessible Word Tips and Accessible PowerPoint Tips prior to creating your PDF to help you build an accessible file from the beginning of the process instead of retrofitting your PDF document for accessibility.

This page does not outline creating Accessible PDFs on more layout or design-based document platforms, such as Canva or InDesign. If you choose to use these or similar programs for the creation of digital documents, we encourage you to research accessibility tips and guidelines for your program with your chosen web search engine. Importantly, though, for standard text-based documents and slideshows, we highly recommend working with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint or Google Documents and Slides.

Checking Your PDF’s Accessibility

What program do I use to check PDF Accessibility?

Currently, there is no free and open source software available that reviews the accessibility of PDFs, and checking the accessibility of your PDF requires Adobe Acrobat Pro. Below are a few considerations for how to access the program:

  1. Check with your institution or employer if you already have access to the program through their institutional subscription, or if you have a discount to Acrobat Pro.
  2. If you do not have access to an institutional or employer Adobe Acrobat Pro package, consider downloading the free trial.
  3. If you have run out of your free trial or otherwise do not have access to the program, check in with peers and colleagues on who may be able to support your need to access Acrobat Pro for an accessibility check (and send them here to learn more about accessibility too!).
    • Tip: Zoom provides remote control access while screen sharing, which could be utilized with any peers and colleagues able to share access to their program on their computers.
  4. If you need to check your PDF for accessibility as related to AAA events, feel welcome to email us using the AAA Contact Form, option “Accessibility.”

How do I use the Accessibility Tool on Adobe Acrobat Pro?

Acrobat XI Pro
  1. Option 1: Click on “View” in the top menu.
    1. Hover over “Tools”.
    2. Click on “Accessibility”.
    3. This should open the accessibility tool for your program.
  2. Option 2: Open your “Tools” panel by clicking on “Tools” in the upper right hand corner; this should be next to “Fill & Sign” and “Comment”.
    1. Click the small menu icon next to a downward arrow in the upper right hand corner of the “Tools” pane.
    2. Click on “Accessibility” towards the bottom of the menu.
    3. The “Accessibility” menu should pop up on the bottom of your “Tools” pane.
  3. Click “Full Check” in the Accessibility menu to open the “Accessibility Checker Window”.
Acrobat Pro DC
  1. Option 1: Click on “Tools” to the right of the “Home” link at the top of the program.
    1. Click “Show More” at the bottom of the icon list.
  2. Option 2: Click on “View”.
    1. Click on “Show/Hide”.
    2. Select “Tools Pane” (which can also be shown or hidden using Shift + F4).
    3. The Tools Pane should open from the right with the names of each tool available.
    4. Click on “More Tools” at the bottom of the Tools Pane list.
  3. Scroll down until the “Accessibility” icon, a purple circle with a small stick person with arms and legs spread out.
  4. Click “Open” or “Add” (“Add” may ask you to purchase the program).
  5. The Accessibility tool pane should open on the right hand sidebar.
  6. Click “Full Check” in the Accessibility menu to open the “Accessibility Checker Window”.
The Accessibility Checker Window
  1. An “Accessibility Checker Options” window pops up. The options are explained below.
    1. Create accessibility report.
      • Check this box.
    2. Attach report to document.
      • Check this box if you want the report attached to the document.
    3. All pages in document
      • Your entire document should be accessible, so have the checker review “All pages in document”.
    4. Category: Document
      • This will review the entire document and not just specific sections.
    5. Go to the bottom of the next list of checkboxes and click “Select All”.
      • Confirm that “32 of 32 in all categories” have been checked off. If not, then go through each category and check what is checkbox is missing.
    6. Show this dialog when the Checker starts.
      • Check this box.
  2. Click “Start Checking” at the bottom of the window.
  3. An “Accessibility Checker” tool pane should now show up on your screen; this will likely be on the left hand side. The next section of this tips page will outline common issues and errors.

What are common PDF accessibility issues?

The Accessibility Checker includes the following categories for review:

  1. Document
  2. Page Content
  3. Forms
  4. Alternate Text
  5. Tables
  6. Lists
  7. Headings

Below is an outline of a handful of common accessibility issues that may arise following an Accessibility Check using Adobe Acrobat. However, we encourage you to also use Seattle Public Schools’ excellent “Adobe Acrobat Pro DC – Common Accessibility Issues” document as necessary for more specific issues that may not be highlighted on this page.

  • Note 1: You can learn more about each error identified in the Accessibility Checker by right clicking on the issue and then selecting “Explain”. This will take you to the Adobe Acrobat Pro help site.
  • Note 2: Some issues may be more easily fixed than others by right clicking on the issue and selecting the “Fix” button.
    • Tip: Follow the instructions for the “Title – Failed” issue below instead of clicking “Fix” on that error.
  • If you encounter more than “(3 issues)”, especially outside of the “Document” category in the Accessibility Checker, open the “Tools” pane again and select the “Add Tags to Document” option.
    1. A pop up message will read: This document is already tagged. Would you like to re-tag the document?
    2. Make sure the box to the left of “Do not show this message again” remains empty. Then click “Yes”.
    3. This should lessen the number of issues, but may not fully eliminate all issues. You will still be required to review parts of your document manually.

Most Common “Document” Issues

  1. Logic Reading Order – Needs manual check
    1. Complete this issue last after all other issues have been resolved. (Trust us; it’s frustrating to do all that work and then have to fix something that messes up the order after you’ve made order corrections!)
    2. Only when you are ready to review the logical reading order:
      1. Click on “View”.
      2. Click on “Show/Hide”.
      3. Hover over “Navigation Panes”.
      4. Select “Order”.
      5. Go through each page and scroll down one-by-one, using your downward arrow button on your keyboard, to confirm the order will be read correctly.
        • Note: Each item in the document will be highlighted by a blue outline. You can change the way you review the Reading Order by selecting “Touch Up Reading Order” in the Accessibility tool pane on the right hand sidebar.
      6. Repeat steps i-iii, and then select “Tags”.
      7. Repeat step v for the “Tags” navigation pane for each tag.
    3. Note: For “Path” on the “Order” pane, a path can denote a link or information found in a visual component, such as an image.
  2. Title – Failed
    1. Click on “File” in the top bar menu.
    2. Click on “Properties”.
    3. A “Document Properties” window will pop up.
    4. In the “Title:” field, provide a formal title for the document that will be read by the screen reader user.
      • It is important to not use the file name if the file name is not intuitive (i.e. “Access Meeting 090920” could instead be “Accessibility Protocols Meeting Agenda and Minutes – September 9, 2020”). Be clear and thorough in your title.
    5. In the “Author:” field, provide the appropriate author, whether an organization or individual, and not a username, nickname, or abbreviation.
    6. Switch to the “Initial View” tab.
    7. Under “Window Options”, select “Document Title” in the drop down menu next to “Show:”.
    8. At the bottom of the window, click “OK”.
  3. Color Contrast – Need manual check
    1. If you reviewed and confirmed the color contrast of all text in your document prior to this moment, congratulations! You can right click on this error and “Pass” the document for Color Contrast.
    2. If were unable to review the color contrast prior to this moment, we recommend you return to the initial format of your document and review color contrasts by using the below steps:
      • How do I check contrast?
        1. Find out the RGB of your chosen color by clicking on the “More colors” option under text or fill color.
        2. Click on “Custom” and confirm the “Model:” is selected to “RGB.”
        3. Copy down the Red, Green, and Blue values.
        4. Use this HTML Color Picker and insert the RGB into the appropriate fields.
        5. At the bottom of the color box is the HEX code. Copy that combination of 6 numbers and/or letters.
        6. Go to this fantastic Contrast Checker tool!
        7. Enter the HEX code as the foreground or background, depending on your selected colors.
          1. Hint: Black is hex # 000000 and white is hex # FFFFFF.
        8. If all 6 circles are green with a checkmark, then the colors you have selected are fully accessible! The “color difference” circle on the end is important especially for color blindness.
    3. Note: A white document with black text, or a black document with white text, will always pass the color contrast test. Any other variation we recommend confirming using the above process or selecting “Fail” for the manual check.

“Alternate Text” Issues

  1. Review all alternate text by clicking the “Set Alternate Text” option in the Accessibility tool pane on the right hand side.
  2. A window will pop up that reads: Acrobat will detect all figures in this document and display associated alternate text.
    • Feel free to mark “Do not show this message again” for this popup.
  3. Click “OK”.
  4. A small window will pop up entitled “Set Alternate Text”.
    1. This window will identify how many images are in your document.
    2. If you already established Alternate Text in the original program, then that text should be visible in the long form field.
    3. For anything that is decorative, check off “Decorative figure”.
  5. When you are completed with all alternate text updates (or portions if you want to make sure you save your work along the way), select “Save & Close.”
    • Tip: Clicking the “X” button in the upper right hand corner will erase all your work. That is no fun. Don’t do it. (If you are reading this, the Accessibility & Meetings Coordinator says hello! Thank you for joining us! And we hope you appreciate the personality slipped into this tips sheet.)

Possible “Tables” Issues

The general rule of thumb for tables is avoid them when possible. If you must use a table, however, these are some issues that may arise.

  1. Headers – Failed
    1. Click on the plus sign to the left of the “Headers” title.
    2. Right click on “Element 1”.
    3. Click on “Show in Tags Panel”.
    4. Click on the plus sign to the left of the highlighted <Table> title.
    5. Right click on <TR>.
    6. Click “New Tag…”.
    7. Select “Table Header Cell” from the dropdown next to “Type:”. Leave the title empty.
    8. Click “OK”.
    9. Drag the new <TH> tag up into the <TR> “folder”.
    10. Repeat steps f-i.
    11. Once all <TR>’s have been provided a header cell, repeat steps b-j for each “Element”.
  2. Regularity – Failed
    1. This often occurs after working on headers.
    2. Go to the Tags Panel.
    3. Ensure that each header and <TD> set up under the <TR> tag is consistent.
  3. Summary – Failed
    1. Right click on each Table that has been designated by “Table” and a box with an x.
    2. Select “Edit Table Summary”.
    3. A small window will pop up entitled “Table Summary”.
    4. Add a brief summary of the table in the field.
    5. Click “OK.”
    6. Repeat steps a-e for each table.

“Headings” Issues

  1. Appropriate nesting – Failed
    1. Click on the plus sign to the left of the “Appropriate nesting” title.
    2. Right click on “Element 1”.
    3. Click on “Show in Content Panel”.
    4. Right click on the highlighted content label.
    5. If a list of tag options shows up on this menu, click on which heading level you wish to tag the content with.
      • Otherwise, click “Properties”.
    6. A new window will pop up, titled “Object Properties” or something similar.
    7. Select that “Tag” tab.
    8. Update to the correct Heading Level in the dropdown menu to the right of “Type:”.
    9. Repeat steps b-h for each “Element”.

If after reviewing this page and the suggested Seattle Public Schools’ “Adobe Acrobat Pro DC – Common Accessibility Issues” document you need support with PDF accessibility issues, feel welcome to reach out to the AAA Accessibility & Meetings Coordinator, Nell (she/her/hers), using the AAA Contact Form, option “Accessibility.”