Creating Accessible PDFs

1. PDF vs. HTML considerations

When considering creating a document - .doc, .pdf, or an .html page, please consider a few factors, which will help you define which format to use. Think about the documents purpose, usability, mobile-friendliness, and search engine optimization. 

HTML PDF Winner
Printed orangecheck.png greencheck.png PDF
Web greencheck.png greencheck.png TIE
Offline forms orangecheck.png greencheck.png HTML
Mobile greencheck.png orangecheck.png HTML
Software to design orangecheck.png greencheck.png HTML
Software to view orangecheck.png greencheck.png HTML
Loading Speed greencheck.png orangecheck.png HTML
Interactive greencheck.png orangecheck.png HTML

Source: Accessibil-IT

2. Creating accessible Microsoft Word documents

2.1 Accessibility Guidelines

Accessibility Guidelines How to Accomplish in Word on MacOS
(Windows Word commands should be similar)
All non-text content has alternative text (alt text) Right-click, add the alt text description
Tables specify column header information Right-click > Table Properties > Alt text
Table has a simple structure (no split cells, no merged cells or nesting) Blank table cells can mislead a user into thinking that there is no more content in the table.
Tables don’t use blank cells for formatting Blank table cells can mislead a user into thinking that there is no more content in the table
Documents use heading styles (Heading 1, heading 2, etc.) Format > Style
  • In the Style section, right-click the style you wish to modify
  • Click on Modify option
  • In the Modify Style dialog, make your desired changes to style characteristics
  • Click on Ok button when you are done
Use lists to organize content Lists helps screen readers to understand how the content is organized. 
Hyperlink text is meaningful (makes sense out of the context) The text should provide clear information about the link destination.
Don’t use “Click / See here”
Avoid the use of repeated blank characters Spaces, tabs, and empty paragraphs often are read as blanks by assistive technology. After hearing several “blanks,” people might think that they have reached the end of the information.
All headings are in the correct order Sequential headings with appropriate levels help users navigate, search, and understand the document’s organization.

2.2 Checking for accessibility issues

  • Use the Accessibility Checker on your desktop to find accessibility issues
    Tools > Check Accessibility (Mac) or use Search
  • Save as .pdf
    By default, Microsoft Word saves documents with preserved accessibility features. Make sure to check “Best for electronic distribution and accessibility”.


3. Creating accessible PDFs from Microsoft Word documents

    1. In Acrobat Reader turn on Accessibility Setup Assistant
      Edit > Accessibility > Setup Assistant (Mac OS) or use search
    2. Run the Accessibility Checker
      Accessibility > Full Check


4. Resources