How to Make a PDF Accessible

Creating the PDF

There are two ways to create a PDF: either converting a source file like a PowerPoint or a Word document to a PDF, or scanning a hard copy of a document to PDF. 

Converting to a PDF

NOTE: Mac users, unfortunately, MS Office 2011 and previous Mac versions of MS Office cannot be converted to an accessible PDF. Please see Scanning to PDF below to scan your printed document to PDF.

Convert/save-as an accessible PDF from a Microsoft 2010 Word or Powerpoint document:

  1. Start with a well structured, accessible word document or presentation.
  2. Click the File tab and select Save as. In the Save as type field select PDF (*.pdf).
  3. Enter a file name in the File name field.
  4. Click on the Options button and make sure the Document structure tags for accessibility and Create bookmarks using Headings check boxes are checked.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Click Save. This will tag all of the text formatting so page headings and lists are correctly interpreted by a screen reader.

Scanning to PDF

Since there are a variety of printers and scanners across campuses, exact instructions cannot be provided here for scanning. Most of the scanners on campus can scan to PDF. For detailed instructions, contact OTS or your department staff.

  1. Place the document on the scanner bed.
  2. Follow the prompts. 
  3. Choose PDF when it is offered as an option.
  4. With the default settings, the scanner should create an accessible (and searchable) PDF.
  5. There are multiple options to output the document:
    • Save to USB Drive: To save the document to a flash drive.
    • Send via E-mail: To send the document to yourself or other recipients.
  6. Open the PDF in Acrobat Reader.
  7. Press Control [Ctrl] + F to see if the document is searchable. 

Does the PDF need Optical Character Recognition (OCR)?

OCR is only necessary if the text on the PDF is not real text. Can you select or copy the text? If not, your PDF needs optical character recognition (OCR). 

Running Optical Character Recognition (OCR) with Adobe Acrobat Pro

  1. Open your PDF file.
  2. Open the Tools panel (click "Tools" in top right) and click "Recognize Text".
  3. Click "In this File" and click the Edit button to adjust your OCR settings.
    1. Select the language of the text.
    2. For output style, choose Searchable Image for PDF Output Style and Down- sample to 600 dpi.
  4. Click okay when done.
  • Contact OTS for help with OCR.

Correcting OCR Errors with Adobe Acrobat Pro

  • In the Tools panel, under "Recognize Text", click on "Find First Suspect"
  • Acrobat will now go through and identify any word conversion it is unsure of and allow you to manually correct them.
  • The pop-up window shows you the picture of the suspected word. The text on the page shows you Acrobat's interpretation of the suspected word. To fix spelling, click on the word in the page, enter the correct text, and then click Accept and Find to move to the next suspect.Indicates a suspected word and where to edit the word in Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  • To save as a PDF, go to File > Save.  For other file types, go to File > Save As and choose from Word, HTML, plain text, and others.

Run the Adobe Acrobat Built in Accessibility Checker

Adobe Acrobat Professional

Adobe Acrobat Professional has a built-in accessibility checker.

Shows the tools tab and Accessibility panel.

If you have Adobe Acrobat Professional, run an accessibility check on your PDF. You can find the accessibility checker under the Tools panel on the right-hand side.

  1. Click the Tools tab to open the Accessibility panel on the right-hand side.
    • If you don't see it there, click the View menu and select Tools > Accessibility.
  2. Select the Full Check button under Accessibility.
  3. The Accessibility Full Check window will open.
    • On the Report and Comment Options:
      • Check on Create Accessibility Report and Include repair hints in Accessibility Reports.
    • On the Checking Options section:
      • Name: Adobe PDF
      • Select All items to be checked.
  4. Click on the Start Checking button.
  5. The Accessibility Report will display.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Even in the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software, you can do a Quick Check on the accessibility of your document

Additional Resources