How to Make a PDF Accessible?

How to make a PDF Accessible
PDF or the portable document format is one of the most preferred formats for digital content publishing and distribution. PDF is an open standard format that allows for faithful representation of content across multiple platforms and devices strictly maintaining document structure and integrity.
Unfortunately, not all PDFs are created with accessibility in mind.

What is an Accessible PDF?

An accessible PDF is one where each page element in a PDF document is tagged appropriately with PDF tags (similar to HTML tags) that helps identify the content type, format, and establishes a logical reading order for assistive technologies to follow, making the PDF fully accessible.

With the increasing number of visually impaired users or persons with other disabilities around the world, there is a responsibility to make all digital content accessible.

With the increasing number of visually impaired users or persons with other disabilities around the world, there is a responsibility to make all digital content accessible.
With regards to PDF accessibility, by meeting comprehensive standards such as WCAG 2.0, PDF/UA and Section 508 allows for creating accessible PDF documents to be read by screen readers like JAWS or NVDA, text-to-speech tools, screen magnification and other assistive technologies.

A fully accessible PDF makes it easy for people with disabilities to access and navigate the document interpreting and understanding the content with the aid of assistive technology.

What are the Characteristics of an Accessible PDF?

While it’s important to make your PDFs accessible, you need to understand the main characteristics that can make any document accessible to everyone.

Let’s look at the ten essential characteristics of an accessible PDF:

  1. Searchable Text
    Keeping the content in your documents as a scanned image of texts or having image-only texts in your documents reduces its accessibility, leaving an inaccessible PDF that’s difficult to read or extract words for assistive technologies. To keep PDF accessibility in your mind, make sure to convert your scanned images of text into searchable text. You can do this by using the optical character recognition (OCR) feature.
  2. Simple Fonts That Can be Extracted to Text
    If software cannot read the Unicode characters of any font because of the lack of information, it won’t be able to recognize the text and ultimately fail to read it to the user. Hence, to keep PDF accessibility in mind, you must have simple fonts with readable Unicode characters. Moreover, people using a screen reader or the read-aloud feature available in the PDF can successfully access content since Acrobat can extract characters from Unicode text.
  3. Alt Text Descriptions for Images
    Alt text descriptions are text alternatives that describe the content of images, charts, or other visuals in a PDF document. These descriptions allow screen readers to read aloud the contents of a visual element, making them easier to understand and easier for people with impaired vision to access. Additionally, alt texts for images provide keyword-rich context around the visuals so that search engines can index and rank them accordingly. This makes it easier for users who are searching online to find relevant information quickly and accurately.
  4. Proper Document Structure Tags and Reading Order
    Document structure tags mark up a PDF document, providing context to each part of the document and enabling screen readers to interpret the content accurately. This allows those who rely on assistive technology to access PDFs better, as they can easily navigate through the document in a logical order.

    Similarly, the reading order is another key element of making a PDF accessible. It enables assistive technologies such as screen readers to present the document’s content logically and coherently. When a PDF document has a proper reading order, the content is structured in a way that follows a logical flow, allowing users to navigate the document predictably.

  5. Interactive Form Fields
    Interactive form fields allow users who rely on assistive technology, such as screen readers or voice recognition software, to navigate through a document more easily by providing an interactive interface for completing forms. This type of feature makes form fields more interactive, allowing people with disabilities to feed information to the form fields more accurately.
  6. Specified Document Language
    Document language can help improve text-to-speech functions by allowing them to pronounce words correctly based on their language. Further, it also helps users who use screen readers switch to their preferred language for accessibility.
  7. Navigational Aids
    Navigational aids provide an invaluable service by enabling people to find their way quickly and easily through the content of a PDF document. They come in many forms, such as bookmarks, links, headings, and lists.

    Bookmarks provide quick navigation between sections within a document, while links take users directly from one page to another or even different documents. Headings help readers understand the structure of a document and make it easier to scan for relevant information, while lists allow users to skim through the contents of long documents quickly. Using these navigational tools together ensures that your PDFs are both readable and accessible to all audiences.

  8. Security That Does Not Interrupt PDF Accessibility
    You can disable the option to edit text, add comments, print, extract, or copy anything in the PDF document. But this makes a PDF inaccessible to a screen reader. Ensure that the security settings in your Acrobat are not set to interrupt the screen reader’s ability to change text into speech.
  9. Accurate Color Contrast
    Having a proper color contrast is essential when making a PDF accessible. Poorly contrasted colors can make it difficult for those with visual impairments to read the information contained in a PDF. To increase accessibility, the visibility of text within a PDF must be improved by considering both the background and foreground colors.

    A balance between light and dark colors is important when selecting contrasting colors for a PDF document. It is recommended that light text should be placed against dark backgrounds, and vice-versa.

  10. Audio and Video Controls
    Lastly, PDF accessibility can only be achieved when you have given your users the ability to control the features through audio and video. Not everyone viewing your content uses a mouse or keyboard to navigate their controls. Hence, it’s essential to have video and audio controls.

How to Convert a Standard PDF Into an Accessible PDF?

A standard PDF needs to be tagged to provide a structured representation of the content for screen readers to interpret. Tagging a PDF document has always been a time-consuming and cumbersome task.

There are many PDF document remediators in the market that offer licensed software for PDF remediation that traditionally come with a high-learning curve requiring extensive knowledge of the various standards making the tagging process arduous, time-consuming and comes with a hefty price tag.

PDF remediation is the process of accurately tagging an inaccessible pdf by identifying and tagging the document structure with appropriate tags for page elements like headings, paragraphs, image alt text, nested lists, and tables making it accessible.

In the case of scanned PDFs, the documents need to be processed through optical character recognition (OCR). OCR takes a scanned image of a page and converts it into text layer and then after that, the document is tagged.

What Makes PDF Accessibility Important?

Currently, around 10% of the world’s population, around 650 million people, live with some form of disability. This number is expected to increase as the population ages and along with it the global awareness for disability-inclusive solutions are also on the rise.
o make millions of digital PDF content that is available on the internet accessible is now more essential than ever. Not addressing the needs of disabled users, only makes one lose brand credibility and potential business.

How Does PREP Help?

PREP is a PDF remediation platform that is intuitive, affordable, and scalable. It has the framework to deliver a high volume of accurately tagged accessible PDFs in a short span of time.

The AI-driven platform quickly detects the base tags and allows for one-click tagging process for headers, text, adding alt text to image, lists and nested lists. You can also re-arrange the reading order with a simple drag and drop motion. The highly intuitive interface allows one to effortlessly tag tables, lists, nested lists, and TOCs.

PREP’s remediation process is 70% automated, reducing turnaround time significantly regardless of the document complexity. It also comes with a robust built-in PDF accessibility checker tool that validates your documents’ compliance against Section 508, WCAG 2.0, PDF/UA, and HHS guidelines.

So, if you are looking for PDF remediation software or service that is simpler, cheaper and better than competing solutions, click here.

Transform with Affordable Document Remediation

Experience top-tier PDF remediation powered by AI, delivering unmatched quality, precision, and scalability, all at a fraction of traditional time and cost.


Debangku Sarma

Digital Marketing Associate
Continual Engine

Vijayshree Vethantham

Senior Vice-President, Growth & Strategy
Continual Engine US LLC

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