Accessible PDFs

Jeff Montgomery -

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility involves how users with disabilities access electronic information and how to make PDF's function with assistive devices used by individuals with disabilities.

There are many ways to Improve the accessibility of PDFs using Adobe Acrobat, this walk through uses Acrobat Pro DC on a Mac. If you are using a different version of Acrobat Pro or different OS the tools maybe located in different places, but you should be able to find what you need.


1 - Tag the PDF

2 - Setting the language

3 - Managing security setting

4 - Book Navigation

5 - Other tips for creating Accessible PDFs


1 - Tag the  PDF

If a PDF doesn’t contain tags, Acrobat attempts to tag it automatically, and the results may be odd. With a tagged PDF, the contents are sent to a screen reader or other assistive software or hardware in the tagged order. It is best to tag a book when converting it to PDF from InDesign (or other software), but if you are not able to in the software you are using, you can tag PDF's with Acrobat.

Tagging while exporting to PDF allows InDesign (or other software) to use paragraph styles or other structural information of the book to build the tags, which can more easily manage complex layouts, such as sidebars and tables. Tagging on export can also properly tag the links, cross-references, bookmarks, and alternate text (when available) that are in the file.

To tag a PDF in Acrobat:

1) Open the Tools Tab

2) Select Accessibility

3) The Accessibility menu will open in the right tool plane

4) Select Autotag Document

The Recognition Report will open in the left tool plane




This works on any untagged PDF. Acrobat analyzes the content of the PDF to interpret the individual page elements, their hierarchical structure, and the intended reading order of each page. Then, it builds a tag tree that reflects that. It also creates tags for any links, cross-references, and bookmarks that you added to the document in Acrobat.

The Autotag tool tags most standard layouts well, however, it cannot always correctly interpret the structure and reading order of complex elements such as closely spaced columns, irregular text alignment, non-fillable form fields, and tables that don’t have borders. This is why it's best to create tags from the build file when you export to PDF.


Evaluate the PDF and repair tagging problems

Once you have a tagged PDF, evaluate the document for reading order problems, tagging errors, and accessibility errors, and then repair them as needed.

However you have tagged the PDF, you can use Acrobat to touch up the reading order for complex page layouts.

If you tag a document from within Acrobat, the application generates a Recognition Report. If you scroll through the report it will show Reduced Confidence Pages, and Accessibility which outlines tags that need to be checked and possibly corrected, followed by How to Repair each of the different type of tags

You can identify other tagging, reading order, and accessibility problems for any PDF by using the Accessibility Check tool or the Reading Order tool.

For more information on how to tag PDF's and how to tag with InDesign see the Adobe Accessibility page:


2 - Setting the language

To set the language manually, do one of the following:

1) Choose File

2) Properties

3) In the window that opens select Advanced

4) Near the bottom of the Properties window under reading options, use the Language pull-down window to select the language. (If the language doesn't appear in the pull-down list, you can enter the ISO 639 code for the language in the Language field.)



3 - Managing security setting

You can set PDF security so no part of an accessible PDF is to be copied, printed, extracted, commented on, or edited. This setting is likely to prevent a screen reader's ability to read the document properly as screen readers must be able to copy or extract the document's text to convert it to speech.

To check/fix accessibility permissions:

1) Choose File

2) Properties

3) In the window that opens select Security

4) In the pull-down window for Security Method select No Security and click OK



If your assistive technology product is registered with Adobe as a Trusted Agent, you can read PDFs that might be inaccessible to another assistive technology product. Acrobat recognizes when a screen reader or other product is a Trusted Agent and overrides security settings that would typically limit access to the content for accessibility purposes.


4 -Book Navigation

Much of the following information is outlined in the Phone PDF creation section of this Knowledge Base. They are outlined here and for more detailed information, please check out the Phone PDF Information and File Creation Guide

Accessible links and Bookmarking

For URLs to be accessible to screen readers, they must be active links that are correctly tagged in the PDF.

Bookmarking table of contents, index and other important pages in the book can also increase accessibility.

Step by step video tutorial for creating links and for bookmarking can be found under:

Enhanced PDFs - For Acrobat 9 and previous

Enhanced PDF - for Acrobat X and Beyond

Quick links

Any time there is a list of topics such as a table of contents, index, spells, combat types and the like, you can simplify the navigation by creating a Quick Links page with links each corresponding to the start of that section. This can consist of the letters of the alphabet to jump the user to say the first listing under R in the index so they do not need to page through to find the same page. Or it may consist of headers like "Spells" and such before the table of contents that takes you to a page of listed spells, each listing when clicked will take you directly to the description of that spell to make it more accessible and easier to reference.

Navigation Footers

Navigation Footers appear on all pages of the book and include BACK (takes you to the last page you were on), Contents (takes you to the top of the Table of Contents or the Quick Links at the top of the contents page), and Index (takes you to the alphabetized Quick Links page for the Index). This will enable the user to easily jump around the book to find the reference, chapter, or page they are looking for quickly.

Landscape page rotation

Often tables fit better in landscape format, to make this easier for users these pages can be rotated horizontally to make them easier to read. This is a quick and easy step to take in Acrobat by either accessing the page thumbnails (menu on the left) select the page in question and click the rotate icon at the top of the menu. Or by opening the Organize Pages tool on the right side of Acrobat, here you can select one or multiple pages and click the rotation tool at the top of the open menu/page.


5 - Other tips for creating Accessible PDFs

For a full list of suggestions for how to create accessible PDF's can be found on the Adobe site, though the tools change slightly between versions of Acrobat, you should still be able to navigate the instructions on the Create and verify PDF accessibility page.









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