Knowledgebase: Accessibility
PDF Accessibility
Posted by Jennifer Otterbein on 16 September 2020 12:34 PM

PDFs are very useful and include a number of accessibility features; however, they must be deliberately added. This process can be time consuming but the results ensure that everyone has access to important information and resources. This article will touch on a few easy things that can be done to get the process started. If you are interested in more about this topic, there is additional training on Buckeye Learn. Contact the Accessibility Coordinator at for more information.


Optimizing the Source Document

If you have access to the source document of the PDF, it is the best place to start. Word processors like Microsoft Word include elements - like headings, lists and tables - that provide structure to a document. These semantic elements also are recognized by assistive technologies and can be transferred to tagged pdfs. Using these elements can take a lot of the manual work required to make an accessible pdf out of the equation. Any images in a document should have alternative text set. Links should be visually distinguishable from other text with link text that is meaningful and not vague (like ‘click me’).


Converting to Tagged PDF

Once the source document has been optimized for accessibility, it can be saved as a tagged PDF.

To save as tagged PDF from Word in Windows:

  1. Click on File > Save as Adobe PDF.
  2. In the pop-up dialog, click Options.
  3. In the next pop-up dialog, ensure the following option is checked: Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF.
  4. You should also leave selected the option Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks.


To save as tagged PDF from Word in Mac:

  1. Go to File > Save As.
  2. In the File Format drop-down menu, select PDF.
  3. Select the "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" radio button.
  4. Click Export.


PDF Remediation

It is important to note that to make a PDF fully accessible you must use Adobe Acrobat Pro. While you do not need Pro to make a tagged PDF, it is required to fix accessibility issues.

Once the PDF is opened in Acrobat Pro, the first thing to do is add metadata to the document. Under the File > Properties menu you will find multiple tabs with fields for information on the document. The two most important pieces of information that must be filled out are the title and the language. The title is the first thing read out by a screen reader and the language ensures that the screen reader uses the proper language settings when reading out the document, ensuring the screen reader can be understood.

The next step is to run the Accessibility Check tool. To get to the Accessibility Check tool, select the Tools tab and select Accessibility under Protect & Standardize. Once you select Accessibility Check from the Accessibility menu, a dialog will pop up with options. Leave all default options enabled and select Start Checking. This will generate a detailed report with all accessibility issues listed as well as the areas that will require manual checking. There are some issues that an automatic accessibility checking tool cannot identify and must be tested by a human. Once you have the list of results, you can right-click each and select Fix if the option exists. If that option is not there, select Explain, which will give more context on the issue.

Within the Accessibility menu, there are other tools that are useful, like the Autotag Document and Identify Form Fields features. More information on how to use these tools and the Accessibility Check can be found on the Adobe Create and verify PDF accessibility page.


Tags are labels that provide information about elements to assistive technology that are not visible in the document. They allow technologies like screen readers to identify what an element is – an image, plain text paragraph, lists, etc. – as well as how a document is organized. Using this information, users can efficiently navigate through a document. The PDF tagging system is very similar to HTML document structure.

The Autotag tool is very helpful for simple documents that cannot be made accessible in the original source document. Automatic tagging can produce somewhat unreliable results, however, and must be used with caution. Whether using Autotag or a tagged document from another source, checking the tags will be an important step to ensure there are not major issues. To review the tag tree, you can open the Tags Pane in Acrobat. To clean up any PDF, you need to delete any empty tags as well as tag any unmarked content.

Delete Empty Tags

  1. Open Tags Pane
  2. Select Options
  3. Select Delete Empty Tags

Tag Unmarked Content

  1. Select Options from Tags Pane
  2. Select Find
  3. Choose Unmarked Content and Search Document
  4. Click Find. This will send you through every unmarked element and give you the option of tagging it


PDF Accessibility can be complicated, depending greatly on the complexity of the source document, but is crucial so they can be used by everyone. More in depth training on this topic can be found on Buckeye Learn. Contact the Accessibility Coordinator at for more information.

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