Instructions for PDFs

This page contains detailed information that will help your PDFs meet accessibility standards. For a general overview of accessibility guildelines for all document types, please refer to Creating Accessible Documents.

Acrobat's Accessibility Checker

Adobe Acrobat includes features for checking the accessibility of a PDF. It is strongly reccomended that you run a full check on every PDF you create, in order to identify problem areas that should be corrected. Please be aware that there are some issues an automatic checker cannot detect. For example, the checker will find whether a PDF is tagged, but it cannot determine whether the tags are properly applied.

Screenshot of Full Accessibility Check

Metadata

In many cases, metadata is automatically added by the authoring application used to create the PDF. Acrobat's accessibility checker can be used to check if any significant metadata is missing.

You can view and edit a document's metadata in Adobe Acrobat by clicking File, then Properties.

In the Description tab, please fill in the following where applicable:

  1. Title
  2. Author
  3. Subject
  4. Keywords

In the Initial View tab, please select "Document Title" in the Show drop-down menu.

In the Advanced tab, please select the appropriate option (English in most cases) for the Language field.‌

Tagging PDFs

In order to meet Section 508 accessibility requirements, all PDFs must be properly tagged. PDFs can be tagged using Acrobat, InDesign, or Office. Where possible, it is preferable to add tags in the application that was used to make the PDF.

Instructions for adding tags to PDFs using:

We have also provided our own step-by-step guide to basic tagging in Acrobat.

Double check to verify that the use of tags is logical and consistent, and that tagged elements are properly sequenced. Automatic tagging processes such as the "Add Tags to Document" option in Adobe Acrobat's Tags panel will often misinterperet the PDF's contents and apply tags incorrectly. Refer to the Standard PDF Tags guide to choose the correct tag for each piece of content in your PDF.

Alternate Text for Images

All nondecorative images or graphics should be marked with alternate (alt) text that screen readers can read aloud to visually impaired users. Alt text should briefly describe the contents of the image. Whenever possible, alt text should communicate the same information as the image. Never use the image's filename or any other generic nondescriptive text as alt text. The general guidelines for writing good alt text apply here as well. If an image does not contribute any useful information or meaning to the document, that image should be marked as an artifact instead.

Instructions for adding alt text to PDFs using:

We also have provided our own step-by-step guide to adding alt text to images in Acrobat. This page also explains how to mark an image as an artifact.

Any text that is embedded in an image is inaccessable to screen readers. Never scan paper documents into PDFs, as this will result in the contents of the entire PDF being one big inaccessable image. Moving forward, try to build all PDFs with accessibility in mind. To fix old documents, recent versions of Acrobat include features for converting text embedded in images into editable, accessable, properly taggable text. There also are a number of free OCR (optical character recognition) tools available on the web, which can greatly speed up the process of repairing or rebuilding old, inaccessible PDFs. Please note that any OCR program can make mistakes when converting the text, so all converted text should be manually checked for correctness.

Creating Accessible PDF Forms

  • Add the correct form fields to the PDF - create a PDF form from scratch within Acrobat or add form fields to an existing PDF
  • Include an accessible label that describes the purpose of the form control to a screen reader - this is provided through the Tooltip
  • Add tags to the form fields
  • Check the tab order and repair, if necessary