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Creating Accessible PDFs: Ensuring Inclusion for All

How to make accessible PDFs? For that matter, what are accessible PDFs - what does it mean and how can you make a PDF accessible? What are the benefits of creating accessible PDFs? And how can it positively affect your business or your individual relationships with others? This article is dedicated to learning how to create an accessible PDF and what it could potentially mean for you as well as others. Let's begin with the basics before we go into the mechanics of creating accessible PDFs. Ready? Access Granted!

accessible pdf

Part 1. An Overview of Accessible PDF

What is an Accessible PDF?

What does it mean when we refer to a PDF as being accessible? Does that mean other PDF files are NOT accessible? Not really. The meaning of accessibility in this context is that a PDF file is compatible with accessibility tools for people who are differently abled. For example, a person who is visually challenged might need the PDF to be read out with a text to speech (TTS) tool or a Braille reader. The PDF, therefore, needs to lend itself to such use cases in order to be deemed an "accessible PDF."

Features of an Accessible PDF

This section talks about the basic eligibility criteria for a PDF file to be called "accessible". You may be surprised, but even though PDFs are the preferred mode of sharing documents, not all of them are created equal. Here are the haves and mustn't-haves of PDF accessibility:

  • Must be compatible with accessibility tools such as screen readers and TTS software
  • Must contain tags and tag trees to accurately represent the document's structure
  • Compliance with standards like WCAG, Section 508, PDF/UA, HHS, etc.
  • Compatibility with refreshable Braille readers

Tags are an important part of an accessible PDF, but it's just the starting point to creating accessible PDFs. There's a lot more that goes into the process, which is why there are compliance standards like the ones mentioned in the bullet points above. For the layman, however, is there really a difference in the way they look? What are the differences? Let's look at these aspects next.

Differences between PDF and Accessible PDF

The chief difference between a normal PDF and an accessible PDF is that the latter can be used alongside accessibility tools. These include screen readers and TTS software for the visually challenged, and so on. Another important difference is that an accessible PDF will always comprise of editable components. That means photos converted to PDF or scanned PDF files are not accessible because the content cannot be edited, such as the text and other individual elements. Each page in this case will be an image, which makes the PDF inaccessible to the special tools mentioned. The third difference is tags. You'll find that accessible PDFs have tags and tag trees that help organize the content and make it recognizable to assistive technology tools like screen readers, etc.

with tags
without tags

What Does an Accessible PDF Look Like?

So, is there any difference between a normal PDF and an accessible PDF in terms of how the file looks? Well, yes and no. To the untrained eye, every PDF looks the same. It's only when you look a little closer that you'll see the differences. To be more precise, there won't be any visible differences. The text, images, and other content will look the same on any device. Moreover, there aren't any indicators in the metadata that would tell a lay person whether or not a PDF is accessible. However, if you know what to look for, such as tags, editing capability, etc., you can tell the difference. That brings us to different ways to check and verify if a PDF is, indeed, accessible or not.

Part 2. How to Check and Verify an Accessible PDF?

One simple test (not for full confirmation) that a PDF may be accessible is to try and select a portion of text. If it's selectable, there's a chance that the file might be an accessible one. But, as mentioned, this is not a test for full confirmation. Another way to check is to see if any tags are present. As noted earlier, this is the starting point to create accessible PDFs, but it also helps identify them. The best way, however, is to get a PDF validator tool, which can confirm whether or not a PDF is accessible; more importantly, if it can be accessed by assistive technologies. It will also show you if the file is compliant with global accessibility standards that we mentioned earlier.

Part 3. How to Make Accessible PDFs with Acrobat Pro?

If you're wondering how to make a PDF accessible, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC makes it super-easy. There's a special function in the Action Wizard that can do this quickly and without any errors. As such, it's a very reliable tool for creating accessible PDFs, and you can process large files very easily this way. Let's look at the exact process, which only involves a few simple steps.

1. Go to the Tools section and select Action Wizard

2. In the side panel on the right side, you'll see an Action List - select Make Accessible

acrobat make accessible

3. Choose a file that you want to make accessible; additional documents can be imported using the Add Files option

4. Click the Start button to initiate the process

5. Follow the on-screen instructions to convert your PDF(s) into accessible PDF(s)

How to Check PDF Accessibility in Adobe Acrobat DC

Not only can you convert a PDF into an accessible PDF, but you can also validate or verify whether a particular file is, in fact, accessible.

1. Go to Tools → Accessibility

2. When you see the Accessibility toolbar, select Full Check/Accessibility Check

3. You'll see the Options window at this point - choose whether you need the results as an HTML file or attach it as a file to the main document

4. Choose a particular page range if required and choose the Checking Options that you need

5. When you hit the Start Checking button, the process will begin - results will be displayed so you can see which failed rules need to be corrected

Note: Not all failed results indicate that the file is not accessible, so a manual check may be required here

Can You Repair a Broken Accessible PDF?

acrobat fix accessibility issues

During the checking process described above, it will show you which particular checks failed. You can use options such as Fix, Skip Rule, Explain, and Check Again to review and correct each issue detected. Common fixes include removing password security that is preventing access to assistive technology tools, performing OCR to convert scanned files into editable ones, fixing the tag order to accurately reflect the reading sequence of the content, the language of the document (Wondershare PDFelement - PDF Editor can translate content into another language to resolve this issue), document title, and so on. As you can see, there are fixes for each of these issues, which means you can easily convert any document you want into a WCAG-compliant document that works seamlessly with assistive technology tools.

Want to make PDFs accessible? Watch the video given below to learn more about how you can use PDFelement to make PDF editing more manageable.

Parting Thoughts

In today's electronic age of information, nearly every piece of information is available online or digitally in PDF and related formats. For that reason, the PDF/UA standard has been developed, not just to help assistive tech users but also to make PDFs suitable for archiving and information retrieval. Using tools such as Adobe Acrobat Pro DC or PDFelement Pro will provide you with efficient ways how to make accessible PDFs from normally created documents. You will also have the tools to convert other file types to PDFs and make them accessible to assistive technologies that are constantly emerging. The compliance standards themselves are in a state of evolution, and having the right tools such as PDFelement will give you full control over your PDF workflows. Now that you know how to create an accessible PDF and have knowledge of creation and validation tools, as well as OCR and other technologies that will assist you in this process, you can be confident of answering the question if someone asks you, "how to make a PDF accessible?"

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