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How to Create Accessible PDF Documents in 2024

Creating accessible PDF documents is crucial to ensure that all users, including those with disabilities, can access and understand the content within the document. Below we will explore the key considerations and guidelines for making PDFs accessible. By following these guidelines, you can promote inclusivity and ensure that everyone can access and benefit from the information contained within your PDF documents.

1. Use Proper Document Structure

Proper document structure is the foundation of an accessible PDF. It allows screen readers to interpret the content accurately and provides a logical hierarchy for users. Utilise heading styles (e.g., Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.) to create a clear and organised structure within your document. Headings should be used to represent the main sections and subsections, helping users navigate the content easily.

2. Add Alternative Text to Images

When including images, charts, and other non-text elements within your PDF, it is essential to provide alternative text (alt text). For users who are unable to view images, alt text offers a succinct and accurate text-based representation of the visual content and its intended function. Screen readers read out the alt text, enabling visually impaired individuals to understand the visual information presented within the document.

To add alt text in PDFs, right-click on the image, select “Edit Image Alternative Text,” and provide a clear and concise description. Make sure to avoid using phrases like “image of” or “graphic of” in the alt text unless it is necessary for context. The clearer you are here, the happier your audience will be.

3. Ensure Proper Reading Order

The reading order of your PDF document should follow a logical flow, ensuring that it can be understood when read from top to bottom and from left to right. Screen readers interpret the document based on its reading order, so it’s crucial to organise the content accordingly.

To check the reading order in Adobe Acrobat Pro, navigate to “View” > “Reading Order” > “Show Reading Order Panel.” Adjust the order using the panel and ensure that the content is structured in a way that makes sense when read aloud.

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Hyperlinks play a vital role in PDFs, allowing users to navigate within the document or to external resources rather than having to search for them themselves. When adding hyperlinks, use descriptive text that clearly indicates the link’s destination. Avoid using generic phrases like “click here” or “read more” as link text. Instead, provide meaningful descriptions that convey the purpose or destination of the link.

For example, rather than saying “Click here for more information,” use “Learn more about accessible PDF guidelines.” This helps users using screen readers understand the context and purpose of the link without relying solely on visual cues.

5. Provide Accurate Document Titles and Metadata

Setting an appropriate title for your PDF document is crucial for accessibility and searchability. The document title provides users with an understanding of the document’s topic or purpose, especially when they encounter it in search results or access it through assistive technologies.

To set the document title in Adobe Acrobat Pro, navigate to “File” > “Properties” > “Description” > “Title.” Ensure that the title accurately reflects the content of the document.

Additionally, fill in other relevant metadata such as author name, document language, and document properties. This information helps users locate and identify the document effectively.

6. Check Colour Contrast

Colour contrast is an essential aspect of accessibility, particularly for users with low vision or colour vision deficiencies. Ensure that there is sufficient contrast between the text and background elements within your PDF, making it easier to read and comprehend.

Aim for a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for regular text and 3:1 for large text. There are various online tools and browser extensions available that can help you check the colour contrast of your PDF, ensuring compliance with accessibility standards.

7. Shrink the Size of Your PDF Documents

Large PDF files can create difficulties for users with limited bandwidth or slower internet connections. By optimising the size of your PDF, you can enhance the overall accessibility and user experience.

Here are some techniques to shrink the size of your PDF:

  • Reduce image size: Compress and down sample images within your PDF document to reduce the file size without risking a significant loss of quality. Many PDF authoring tools offer options to optimise images for the web or reduce their resolution.
  • Remove unnecessary elements: Remove any unnecessary images, annotations, form fields, or other elements that do not contribute to the document’s accessibility or readability.
  • Use font embedding: Embed the fonts used in your PDF to ensure consistent rendering across different devices and platforms. This prevents the need for font substitution, which can increase file size.
  • Choose appropriate compression settings: When saving your PDF, select appropriate compression settings to balance file size and quality. Many PDF authoring tools provide options to adjust compression levels for different types of content.
  • Use a PDF compressor once the document is complete.  Tools like SmallPDF can shrink the size of your PDF by as much as 99%.
  • Scan Documents: By using a scanning app, you can scan your documents and digitize your paperwork.

Remember to test the accessibility of your PDF after making any changes to ensure that the content remains accessible to users with disabilities.

8. Enable Document Accessibility Features

PDF authoring tools such as Adobe Acrobat Pro offer built-in accessibility features that facilitate the creation of accessible PDFs. These features include the ability to tag elements, add alternative text, and check for accessibility issues.

By enabling these accessibility features, you can ensure that your PDF document is structured correctly, images have alternative text, and other accessibility requirements are met. These tools often provide step-by-step guidance and prompts to help you create an accessible PDF.

9. Test Accessibility

After creating an accessible PDF, it’s essential to test it using screen reader software or accessibility checkers to identify and address any accessibility issues. Testing ensures that the document is fully accessible to users with disabilities and provides a seamless reading experience.

Screen reader software, such as JAWS or NVDA, allows you to experience the PDF as a visually impaired user would. It helps you identify any missing alt text, issues with reading order, or other accessibility problems.

Accessibility checkers, such as the built-in checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro or online tools like PAC 3, can automatically analyse your PDF for accessibility issues and provide detailed reports on areas that need improvement.

By testing your PDF and addressing any identified issues, you can ensure that the document meets accessibility standards and can be accessed by a wide range of users.

Conclusion

Creating accessible PDF documents is essential for promoting inclusivity and ensuring that all users can access and understand the content within your documents. By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you can create PDFs that are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Remember to structure your document properly, add alternative text to images, ensure a logical reading order, use descriptive hyperlinks, provide accurate document titles and metadata, check colour contrast, optimise the size of your PDF, enable document accessibility features, and test the accessibility of your document.

By taking these steps, you contribute to a more inclusive digital environment where information is accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Start creating accessible PDFs today and make a positive impact on the accessibility and usability of your documents.