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PDF Accessibility (Adobe Acrobat Pro DC)

The version used on this page is Adobe Acrobat Pro DC for PC. Looking for an older version of Adobe Acrobat Pro?

This page covers techniques that can be used to make accessible PDF documents. In order to make your PDF documents accessible, you must use Adobe Acrobat Pro. Do not confuse Adobe Acrobat Pro with the free PDF reader known as Adobe Reader; they are not the same. Adobe Reader lacks many of the features that are used to make PDF documents accessible.

Page Contents

Convert Word Document to PDF

A common practice for creating PDF documents is to first create a document outside of Adobe Acrobat Pro and then convert that document to PDF. As long as the original document is accessible, you are able to convert over the information resulting in a mostly accessible PDF document - possibly requiring a couple minor fixes.

Converting your Word document into PDF:

    1. With your document open within Microsoft Word, click on File, at the top left corner.
    2. Click on Save As.
    3. Choose a location to save the file and then choose PDF from the Save as type dropdown menu.
    4. Click on the Options… button.
    5. Make sure the checkbox for Document structure tags for accessibility is checked.
    6. Click Ok.
    7. Click Save.
Save As window open within Microsoft Word with PDF selected for the Save as type option. Options window open with the Document structure tags for accessibility option checked.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

When a PDF document is created from a scanned paper document, the resulting PDF document is essentially one big image. Individual elements on the scanned PDF document cannot be selected and thus cannot be made accessible. OCR is the process that converts scanned documents into selectable and editable data. Running OCR plays a crucial part in preparing scanned documents to be made accessible.

Running OCR on your PDF document:

  1. Click on the Tools tab at the top of the document.
  2. Click on the Edit PDF option from the menu on the right. OCR will automatically run on the document and once finished, a prompt will appear to inform you that OCR has finished.
Tools window open with the Edit PDF option selected. Popup window of OCR completion.


All PDF documents have a few properties that must be changed to be accessible. These properties not only help with the accessibility of the document but also the readability.

Changing your PDF document’s properties:

  1. Right-click anywhere on the document and select Document Properties… from the dropdown menu. Document Properties can also be accessed by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+D.
  2. On the Description tab, type in a title, author, subject, and keywords.
  3. On the Initial View tab, choose Document Title from the Show dropdown menu.
  4. On the Advanced tab, choose English from the Language dropdown menu.
  5. Click OK.
Document Properties window open displaying title, author, subject, and keywords fields on the Description tab, Document Title selected from the Show menu on the Initial View tab, and English selected for the Language on the Readng Options tab.


Tags are used to group, label, and order elements within a PDF document. Tags are hidden to visual users but they are essential in allowing visually impaired users using screen readers to understand the PDF document’s structure. There are multiple methods to automatically add tags to a document, however, these autotagging features are frequently inaccurate and result in time-consuming cleanup. It is recommended that you manually add tags using the instructions below.

Manually adding Tags to your PDF document:

  1. At the top of the document, click on View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Order.
  2. From within the Order pane, click on the options icon and then choose Show reading order panel.
  3. Drag boxes around elements on the document to select them.
  4. Once elements are selected, click on a label (Text, Figure, Heading 1, etc.) within the Touch Up Reading Order window.
  5. Continue tagging elements until everything has a tag.
Order pane open with Show reading order panel highlighted in the options dropdown menu.

Touch Up Reading Order window open next to a properly tagged document.

Reading Order

After all elements have a tag, it is important to ensure that they are read in a proper order. The Order pane displays the order in which a low vision user might choose to read the PDF document while the Tags pane displays the order in which a screen reader would read the PDF document. Both panes’ lists should be reordered to ensure accessibility.

Reordering your content within the Order pane:

  1. At the top of the document, click on View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Order.
  2. Reorder items within the Order pane by dragging and dropping them into the correct order, read from top to bottom.
Order pane open displaying all of the tags within the document.

Reordering your content within the Tags pane:

  1. At the top of the document, click on View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags.
  2. Reorder items within the Tags pane by dragging and dropping them into the correct order, read from top to bottom.
Tags pane open displaying all of the tags within the document.

Alt Text

Alternative text, also known as alt text, is hidden text that describes what is happening in an image. Alt text allows those that are visually impaired to use a screen reader to understand the content of an image. Alt text should be short and concise. Do not begin the alt text with “This is an image of…” because images are already identified to the user as images by the screen reader.

Adding alt text to your images:

  1. At the top of the document, click on View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Order.
  2. Click on the number of a figure at the top left corner of the tagged figure.
  3. Right click on the figure and then select Edit Alternate Text.
  4. Type in a description for the image.
  5. Click OK.
Alternate Text window open with a description of an image in the text field. The Alternate Text window is seen next to the image that is having alt text added to it.

An image with text on top of it showing how alt text looks within Acrobat.

Accessibility Checker

Adobe Acrobat Pro’s built-in accessibility checker identifies issues in PDF documents and suggests helpful tips to make the document even more accessible.

Running the accessibility checker:

  1. At the top of the document, click on View > Tools > Accessibility > Open.
  2. From the Accessibility pane, click on Full Check
  3. Leave all of the settings as their defaults and then click Start Checking. The accessibility checker will run and then open within the PDF document.
Accessibility pane open with the Full Check option highlighted. Accessibility Checker pane open displaying the various issues found within the document.

More Help

For more help with creating accessible PDF documents, please contact Studio 6.

Additional Resources