Create Accessible PDF Files

Note: Adobe PDF files (Portable Document Format) are appropriate for use when displaying documents that must print exactly as the author intends. Adobe Reader is required to view PDF files and is available for free on Adobe's site. The newest version of Adobe Reader 7.0 is significantly better then the older versions but it still has some accessibility problems.

The current version 7.0 contains the following accessibility features:

When developing your PDF documents, consider the types of disabilities your students may have. Generally “accessibility” in Adobe PDF files refers to the accessibility of screen readers. It is important to remember that you may have students with motor disabilities, hearing disabilities, cognitive disabilities, or low vision. Consider the following guidelines when creating your documents.

In order for a PDF to be accessible, the PDF document must be well structured and correctly tagged and the user must correctly configure his/her accessibility preferences in Adobe Reader.

The following approaches will help you create accessible documents:

  1. Provide an alternative HTML version of the PDF file (either instead of or in addition to the PDF file).
  2. Create a tagged PDF file with all of the appropriate accessible markup.

If PDF files must be used they should be produced with tags. This can be done with Adobe Acrobat 5.0, full version and newer. Some other programs such as OpenOffice.org allow you to save with the tagged PDF format as well.

For detailed information and instructions on how to create tagged PDF files with Adobe products visit the following link: Adobe: Create accessible content. You can create tagged PDF files with Adobe Acrobat 5.0, full version and higher (current version 7.0). For more ideas and information on techniques to make PDF files accessible visit this WebAIM: Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Techniques. Some other programs such as OpenOffice.org also allow you to save with the tagged PDF format.

To truly make PDF files accessible they need to be saved in an HTML format. Ideally this should be done using the program that created the PDF files. Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Office, and OpenOffice.org support the Save as HTML format.

For more detailed information creating tagged PDF files with Adobe products go here: Adobe: Create accessible content. For more ideas and information on techniques to make PDF files accessible go here: WebAIM: Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Techniques

To truly make PDF files accessible they need to be saved in an HTML format. Ideally this should be done from within the program that created the PDF files. As mentioned earlier Adobe Acrobat 5.0 and newer and OpenOffice.org support this. If that is not an option you must use another tool to convert them but this does not always work well.

The Adobe website offers free Online Conversion Tools to quickly convert PDF files to HTML or plain text. This service is available by either emailing the PDF document, or by entering the URL. The Online Conversion Tool should be used when access to the original document or Adobe Acrobat is not available. Note that this will not work for all PDF files, such as a long, complex document or scanned pages.

To convert your document try one of these techniques:

To convert PDF files that are scanned images a specialized program must be used. These files can be emailed to Disability Support Services they can be converted and sent back. If you have access to a program such as ABBYY FineReader, OmniPage Pro, or Kurzweil then you can convert them yourself by opening them with that program. For more information on how to convert books and documents to electronic format with Optical Character Recognition (OCR).