Creating Accessible PDFs

Converting to PDF from Office 2010

PDFs that are created from an electronic source are already well on their way to being accessible, but some tweaks on the resulting PDF are needed. The most common method is to convert a universally designed Word Document to PDF using the Adobe Acrobat plugin.

Following are the most important steps you can take to make your converted PDFs more usable.

Downloadable Guides

If you prefer to use a downloadable, printable version, guides for both Acrobat X and Acrobat XI are available in Word and PDF format below. The instructions on this page are for Acrobat X only.

  • Creating Accessible PDFs from Office 2010 with Acrobat X Download Word Version of Converting from Office 2010 to Acrobat X Download PDF Version of Converting from Office 2010 to Acrobat X
  • Creating Universally Designed PDFs from Office with Acrobat XI Download Word Version of Converting from Office 2013 to Acrobat XI Download PDF Version of Converting from Office 2013 to Acrobat XI

Before Conversion

Using the Acrobat Plugin

Most importantly, follow the Universal Design tips for Word Documents before conversion, including using styles for headings. Many of the actions you take to make a Word document accessible will translate over into your PDF.

  1. In the Acrobat toolbar, enable a setting in the Preferences menu:
  2. Check the box for "Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF" under the Settings tab (if it is not already checked).
  3. Enable Tagged PDF Screenshot

  4. Use either the "Save As Adobe PDF" option in the "File" menu...
    Save As PDF Screenshot

Or the "Create PDF" option on the Acrobat toolbar.

    Create PDF from Toolbar

Following these steps will help to ensure that the structure of your Word document will carry over into the new format, making the PDF easier to navigate without you having to do the work twice.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Avoid using the Adobe PDF option found in your printers list. If you "Print to PDF," all the accessible formatting you just did in Word will be lost!

Cleanup After Conversion

Set the Document Language

Screen readers look at the document properties to determine the pronunciation they should use while reading the document.

In order to set the language of your pdf:

  1. Click on File > Properties.
  2. In the Advanced Tab of the Properties window, use the Language Drop-down Menu to select the language.

Document Properties window. Language is the last setting.

Set the Tab Order

The Tab Order is the order in which a keyboard user will go through the information on the page. The tab order does not always make sense compared to the way you read a document visually, so you need to specify that it should match the document structure (which we will also be checking in a moment).

  1. In the Page Thumbnails navigation pane on the left side of the document, select all pages.
  2. Click on the navigation pane dropdown menu.
  3. Select "Page Properties"
    Page Properties Menu
  4. On the "Tab Order" tab, select the "Use Document Structure" option:
    Set Tab Order Screenshot

Check the Reading Order

During PDF creation, the reading order is often mixed up and needs to be corrected. This usually happens with images, which for some reason all end up at the end instead of dispersed throughout the text.

To check the reading order, first open the Accessibility Toolbar by clicking on View > Tools > Accessibility:

Acrobat Accessibility Tool

This opens a toolbar on the right side of the screen, giving you several options for tweaking accessibility within the document. Select TouchUp Reading Order.

Click on Tools, Accessibility, TouchUp Reading Order

Your page should now have some numbers on it. These are the 'Tags' that determine the reading order. If the order is incorrect, select "Show Order Panel" on the TouchUp Reading Order window:

Select 'Show Order Panel' in the TouchUp Reading Order window

The Panel will show up on the left side of the document, where you can drag the items into the correct order.

Tags out of order

Run the Accessibility Checker

In the Accessibility Toolbar, click on Full Check and accept the default settings in the window that pops up.

Accessibility toolbar with full check circled

The report will display on the left side of the document where the table of contents is normally shown. The report may include issues not discussed on this page. See the links below if you are ready to go further.

Further Resources

In-depth tutorials on these steps and more can be found here:

Adobe PDF, Universally Designed by CSU's ACCESS Project

PDF Tutorials by Adobe

PDF Tutorials by WebAIM

Video Tutorials by Atomic Learning