Creating Accessible PDFs

A PDF document may contain logical structure information that allows the information to be accessible to vision or hearing impaired users.  This is called a “Tagged PDF” file.  Converting a file to a tagged PDF document is simple.

Create the file in Microsoft Word

  • Avoid using Microsoft Publisher.  Publisher does not allow users to save files as a tagged PDF document.  This will cause more accessibility issues which will require more of your time to make repairs; some of which can be very difficult or impossible.
  • Use Microsoft Word to create your files.  PowerPoint converts to tagged PDF format very well.  Excel files can be converted to tagged PDF format; however, layout/content/structure should be in the simplest form possible. If this cannot be done, the file may not be accessible.
  • Simplicity. Keep content as simple as possible.
  • Use Styles. Use styles to format text such as titles, headings, and paragraphs.  

    Microsoft Word "Styles" toolbar

  • Heading styles should be used to make logical divisions in your document.  Heading styles must be used in chronological order from Heading 1 to Heading 6.  You cannot skip from one heading to another (Heading 1 to Heading 3).  You should start with Heading 1 at the top of your document (most important) and use lower heading numbers as you make your way down the document (less important).
    Styles used in MS Word

  • Columns command. Use the columns command to create columns instead of tables.

    "Layout" toolbar in Microsoft Word


Image descriptions. Provide alternate text for all images – you can do this by viewing the image properties. Review some tips on how to write image descriptions.

  • Right-click the image then click "Format Picture":
    Short-cut menu in Microsoft Word

  • Click the "Layout and Properties button" then "Alt Text" to reveal the "Description" field. Provide a short description of the image. Review some tips on how to write image descriptions.
     Image properties dialog box in MS Word


Tables should only be used to present information in data format.

  1. Do not use tables to layout content on your page.
  2. Do not merge table cells.
  3. Every table cell should contain content:

    table with content

  4. Every table must include a 'header row'. To include a 'header row' in your table, do the following:
    • Highlight and right-click the top row in the table to open the short-cut menu. Click the 'Table Properties...' option:
      Short-cut table menu in Microsoft Word

    • Click the "Row" tab in the Table Properties dialog box:
      Table properties dialog box

    • Place a check in the check box next to 'Repeat as header row at the top of each page':
      Table properties Row tab dialog box

    • Click the 'OK' button to confirm.

Supply a Title

  • Provide a title for the file before converting to PDF format. Click "File" tab:
    File menu in Microsoft Word

  • Click the "Info" tab:
    Info tab in Microsoft Word

  • Provide a title in the "Title" input field under "Properties" on the far right:
    Info panel in Microsoft Word with the "Title" field highlighted.

Convert Files to PDF Format

  • If converting from MS Word, check "Save As" settings to make sure that a Tagged PDF will be generated.
    Save As dialog box in Microsoft Word

Check Accessibility

Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Pro and run the Accessibility Check tool to check and repair any accessibility errors.

Locate Accessibility Checking Tool:

  • Click the "Tools" tab in Adobe Acrobat Pro:

    "Tools" tab in Acobe Acrobat Pro DC

  • Scroll down the list of tools to find the "Accessibility" tool under the "Protect & Standardize" section:
    "Accessibility" tool option highlighted under "Protect and Standardize" section.

  • Click the "Add" button:
    "Add" button for "Accessibility" tool highlighted.

  • The "Accessibility" shortcut button will be added to the shortcut panel on the right:
    "Accessibility" tool highlighted in the Acrobat Pro "Tools" panel.

Check document for errors:

  • Open the PDF document in Adobe Acrobat Pro.

  • Click the "Accessibility" tool on the tools panel.
    "Accessibility" tool button highlighted.

  • Click the "Full Check" option:
    Acrobat Pro DC menu

  • The "Accessibility Checker Options" dialog box appears. Make sure that "Checking Options" shows "32 of 32 in all categories" appears.

    Accessibility Checker Options dialog box in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

    If "Checking Options" shows less than 32 of 32 in all categories than click the drop-down menu to make sure that all check boxes are checked. If a check box is not checked, click on the check box to add a check mark in the check box.

    "Categories" drop-down menu highlighted in "Accessibility Checker Options" dialog box.

  • Click the "Start Checking" button:

    "Start Checking" button highlighted.

  • An accessibility report will instantly appear on the far left panel:

    Accessibility report example in Adobe Acrobat Pro. 

Fixing Common Errors

Title Failed:

Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Report - Title Failed

If you provided a title in Microsoft Word, you can easily fix the "Title - Failed" issue by doing the following:

  • Right-click the "Title - Failed" note to open the short-cut menu.  Click "Fix":
     Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Report - Short-cut menu displayed

  • The accessibility report will show as "passed":

    Accessibility report showing error as "passed"

Table Summary Missing:

Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Report - Table Summary Failed

To provide a table summary, do the following:

  • Click "Element 1" (if there are additional tables in the document, Acrobat will indicate them as "Element 2, Element 3, Element 4, etc...")
    Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Report - Element 1 selected

  • The table will be selected:
    Table selected in Acrobat Pro

  • Click "Reading Order" option on the tools panel (usually located on the far right):

    Adobe Acrobat Tools Panel - Reading Order option highlighted

  • The "Reading Order" dialog box appears over the table:

    Adobe Acrobat Pro Reading Order dialog box over table

  • Right-click the table to open the short-cut menu. Click "Edit Table Summary":

    Table Summary option highlighted

  • The "Table Summary" dialog box appears. Provide a summary for the table and click the "OK" button to close the dialog box:

    Table Summary dialog box

  • Click the "Close" button on the "Reading Order" dialog box:

    Close button highlighted

  • Right-click "Element 1" in the Accessibility Report and click "Check Again":

    "Check Again" option highlighted

  • The accessibility report will show the table summary as "passed":

    Table Summary - Passed option highlighted

Additional Information

Please review the information on the following pages for more information about creating accessible documents: