Creating Accessible PDFs

Many people opt to use PDF because it saves the formatting of their document. Please keep in mind: Format follows function. Many people have said that avoiding PDFs entirely is often the best approach to ensuring PDF accessibility.

Scanned PDFs

  • PDFs made by scanning a document with an office copier are not accessible unless you take a few extra steps beyond scanning. A scanned PDF is a picture of text. As such, a screen reader is not going to be able to read the text and the text in the image is much too long to enter as alt text.

OCR - Optical Character Recognition

  • In order to make a scanned PDF accessible, the first step is to use OCR to convert the image into text.
  • To see if a PDF has already been converted and is readable by a screen reader, try to use your mouse to highlight the text. If you can highlight pieces of text, OCR has been used. If you cannot highlight lines of text, then you are looking at an image.
  • To test the accuracy of the OCR conversion, copy and paste the highlighted text into a document and check to see if the text/characters were accurately converted.

Tagged PDFs

  • Once a PDF has been converted, the next task is to add tags. Tags allow the author to identify headings, alt text, lists, etc. They essentially give the document structure and allow the reader to easily navigate the document.
  • To determine whether a PDF is tagged, open it in Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader and go to Document Properties. In the lower left corner of the Document Properties dialog, Tagged is either Yes or No.
  • To add tags to a PDF you need to use Adobe Acrobat.
  • Fixing Inaccessible PDFs Using Adobe Acrobat Pro

Converting to PDF from Word

  • The easiest and best way to create an accessible PDF is to use MS Word. If you format your document following the accessibility standards and practices discussed previously in Creating Accessible Word Documents, your PDF will be off to a good start.


Resources on the Web

Contact Accessibility Coordinators

  Brandon Ray/Director of IT Services/Technology Accessibility Coordinator

Fax: 360.442.2259

  Mary Kate Morgan/Director of Disability Support Services & Special Populations


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