You can find PDFs on websites of every kind worldwide. They are the chosen file format to provide a wide range of information, from sales materials to restaurant menus. The problem is most PDFs aren’t accessible to people with disabilities, creating a frustrating user experience that can hurt your business. Did you know, for instance, that over 70% of people with disabilities promptly abandon websites because of inaccessible information? The good news is there are readily available resources and insights on how to make a PDF accessible. 

This blog provides eight proven tips and other insights for creating accessible PDFs. We begin with the definition of an accessible PDF and how to create one that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

PDFs and ADA Compliance

So, what exactly is an accessible PDF? An accessible PDF must be available and usable for people of all ability levels.  Federal and State laws protect accessibility to electronic documents, and an estimated 4% of the population needs assistive technology to access and utilize these documents. Assistive technology can include screen reading software and a variety of other devices and apps, such as braille displays and on-screen magnifiers.

Any document online must be screen-reader friendly to comply with the ADA, in formats like PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and more. Creating accessible documents is critical to ensure equal access for everyone, and to protect organizations from accessibility-related legal action. It’s also a wise and ethical business strategy to serve the millions of people with disabilities who deserve equal access to your products and services.

Next, we help define PDF tagging, a critical step toward accessibility.

What is PDF Tagging?

PDF tags are critical for accessing PDF content with screen reader software. Every page variable is “tagged when you produce a tagged PDF, and every tag recognizes the content type and stores its related attributes. Tags also create a content hierarchy (tag tree), the order in which end users see and read the related information. And every document has different tags depending on its content, including paragraphs, headings, lists, tables, and figures. Importantly, PDF tags don’t alter a document’s appearance. Rather, they’re more like invisible formatting layers that work with screen readers “behind the scenes.” PDF tags also flow seamlessly across various digital devices and apps. 

Ready to get proactive about document accessibility? Learn and apply the eight helpful tips outlined in the next section. 

8 Tips on How to Make a PDF Accessible 

1. PDF Tagging In Word Processing Software

First, use the source software’s semantic “tag” features for best results. The headings in Microsoft Word (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.) will tag that text as headings. Plus, you can edit Microsoft Word heading styles with visual attributes.

2. Automatic Approach in Adobe Acrobat Pro

Once you create a PDF, Adobe Acrobat Pro offers some automated tools that can attempt to add tags to the PDF automatically. The results could be better but can get you closer to your goal faster than manually tagging the entire document.

3. Manual Approach in Adobe Acrobat Pro

Regardless of how well the first two methods perform in tagging the document, there is almost always a need to clean up and fill in missing tags using Acrobat Pro. Use the tag panel in Acrobat Pro, usually found somewhere in the View menu, depending on the software version. Using the tools within the Tags panel, you can polish the structural tags within any PDF. 

The Accessibility panel also offers helpful tools and can usually be found in the Options menu, depending on the version of Acrobat Pro. Here you will find tools for adding or editing alternative text for non-text content, checking reading order, enhancements for form fields, and accessibility scanning tools that can alert you to previously overlooked problems.

4. Provide Alt Text

Add alternative text (Alt Text) to accompany images, which is a quick description of an image. Images that do not require Alt Text are those that are purely decorative.

5. Use Proper Color Contrast

A strong contrast between text and background colors is critical for maximum readability.

6. Remediate and Tag PDFs

Tagging ensures that a PDF file’s content and structure are correctly described and ready to be distributed to users of assistive technology.

7. Begin With an Accessible Original Document

Whether it’s Microsoft Word, Google Docs, PowerPoint, or InDesign, make your source document as accessible as possible before the PDF conversion.

8. Retain Your Accessibility Settings for the PDF

Don’t use the “Print to PDF” settings because they eliminate your tags and accessibility formatting.

Accessible PDFs Are a Good Start

PDFs are a universal file format with numerous advantages, enabling users to view and share digital documents quickly and reliably. They’re compatible with nearly any software and accessible on any OS or device. They provide ample content, including images, text, and links in one document, and you can create them from nearly any source, like printers, scanners, and photocopiers. 

However, for people with disabilities, most online PDFs are inaccessible files with important information they need. Despite their many advantages, PDFs can only reach their broadest potential audience if accessible to everyone. And this speaks to the bigger challenges we all face to create an inclusive digital world for everyone. Accessible documents are just one variable that supports a holistic web inclusivity solution—it’s up to all of us to complete that solution with the right technology and support.  

Learn why UserWay is your holistic solution for digital accessibility and ADA compliance.

Count on UserWay for Accessibility & Compliance

PDF accessibility is just one facet of UserWay’s comprehensive approach to digital accessibility and compliance. With a complete framework of AI-powered tools, attorney-led legal support, and commission-based partnership, UserWay is your all-in-one solution to maximize your digital inclusivity efforts. 

Why not start today? Take that critical first step with a personal consultation or free UserWay trial.   

Answers to Common FAQs

What Makes a PDF Accessible?

Accessible PDFs are readable and accessible for people with disabilities and meet ADA guidelines by accommodating screen readers and braille printouts for the vision-impaired. 

How Do You Meet Requirements for PDF Accessibility?

Adobe Acrobat tools simplify creating and checking the accessibility of existing PDFs. You can also use a third-party provider to create accessible PDFs for you. 

What Are the Accessibility Features of a PDF?

First, always provide interactive form fields that enable end users to enter values quickly. Other accessibility PDF features that help simplify navigation include intuitive hyperlinks, bookmarks, headings, and content tables.