How to Create Accessible PDFs

There are three main steps in creating an accessible PDF. They are:

  1. Create an Accessible Source Document
  2. Create a PDF from a Microsoft Office Program
  3. Check PDF Accessibility in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Most users will need two programs to accomplish the step below, both of which are available for free for Rutgers faculty and staff:

A: Create an Accessible Source Document

The key to creating accessible PDFs is to make sure your source document optimized for accessibility. Below are links for accessibility settings and tips for several popular programs. Note that Microsoft Publisher has no accessibility settings, and as such we highly recommend NOT using it. Use Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign instead.

Microsoft Excel/PowerPoint/Viso/Word (Office 365 version)

  1. Add a title to the document properties. In your MS Office program, go to File > Info, and in the "Properties" column enter the document's title in the "Title" field.
  2. Use text boxes sparingly. Text boxes lead to messy PDFs.
  3. Use Styles, and use them correctly. A properly organized document should use styles that semantically match the the content. What does that mean? The main title of your document should use the the Heading 1 style. Most of your body text shoud use the Normal style. First-level subheads should use the Heading 2 style. If the style that you need to use doesn't match the style you want to apply to a particular type of element (e.g., you want all Heading 2s to be bold, orange, 14-point Arial, centered), then you need to modify the style.
  4. Add images properly. When you add images to your document, to NOT copy & paste. Make sre you have the image on your computer. Then, in the top menu, go to Insert > Picture > This Device. From there, navigate to the folder that contains your image and select it. Once you've added your image, right-click on it and select "Edit Alt Text...".In the right column, enter a short description of the image in the white box.
  5. Run the Accessibility Checker. You can also find the Accessibility Checker on the Info page. Click on the "Check for Issues" box and select "Check Accessibility" from the dropdown. An Accessibility column will appear on the right. If your document has accessibility errors, they will be listed here. Fix the issues before crested your PDF.
  6. For more specific details on issues to look out for in your MS Office document, including Meaningful hyperlink text, Issues with color-coding and contrast, Tables, see the following links:

Other Programs

B: Create a PDF from a Microsoft Office Program

If you have Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, all your Office programs should have an Acrobat menu/ribbon at the top.

  1. Open up the document in your Microsoft Office program.
  2. One-Time Only Step:
    1. In the top menu bar, go to Acrobat > Preferences.
    2. In the "Settings" tab, make sure the "Conversion Settings" dropdown is set to "Standard".
    3. In the "Settings" tab, make sure "Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF" is checked.
  3. When you're ready to create a PDF, go to File in the top menu bar, then select "Save As". In the file type drop-down, "PDF (*.pdf)", then click on the "Save" button.

C: Check PDF Accessibility in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

So you've fixed the accessibility issues in your document and created a PDF from it—you're done, right? Wrong! The process of creating a PDF can uncover accessibility issues that Word couldn't, and in some cases it can create new ones.

The simplest fixes can be done using the "Make Accessible" Action Wizard in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC. To find and use it, follow these steps:

  1. Open the PDF in Acrobat Pro DC
  2. One-Time Only Step:
    1. Go to "Tools " (in the upper left, next to "Home").
    2. In the "Customize" section, you will see "Action Wizard". In the dropdown underneath it, select "Add Shortcut". This will add it to your toolbar on the right of your screen.
  3. In the toolbar on the right, select "Action Wizard".
  4. In the Actions List, select "Make Accessible".
  5. Click on the "Start" button.
  6. If you get a Security Warning dialog box asking for write access to the filesystem, click on "Allow".
  7. From here, you can follow the steps of the wizard. The first step is usually the "Description" dialog box. The two key fields here are "Title" and "Author". If you entered a document title in your Word document, it should show up here. If not, enter it. For "Author", at the very least make sure it is not someone who is no longer here. For forms and generic documents, enter "Rutgers SEBS" or "Rutgers NJAES" as appropriate. For publications, enter the document's actual authors. The other two fields are optional—you can leave them blank. When done, click "OK ".
  8. The next step is usually the "Recognize Text - General Settings " dialog box. Make sure the Document Language is set to "English (US) ", then click "OK".
  9. Next, you will get a dialog box asking if your document will be a fillable form. Answer as appropriate.
  10. Continue following the dialog boxes. The last one is the "Accessibility Checker Options" dialog box. Click on the "Start Checking" button. This will show you all the issues that the wizard didn't correct. The issues will be highlighted in the "Accessibility Checker " column on the left. Expand each category to see the actual issues. Fixing these issues is a more complicated affair and beyond the scope of this simple document. See Check accessibility of PDFs (Acrobat Pro DC) for more info about the Accessibility Checker.