January 7, 2016

Five Tips for Creating Accessible PDF Documents

by Ted Meltok

Creating accessible documents quite simply means making your documents accessible to those with disabilities through the use of assisted technology (e.g. screen readers). Further, the amended Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires Federal agencies to make all of their electronic and information technology accessible.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics via Forbes, “More than 25% of all college and university students are enrolled in a distance education course.” With the rapidly evolving educational landscape, many universities are beginning to offer more online courses and more students are beginning to take these classes to gain similar benefits but at cheaper costs compared to on campus learning. With all these new online courses being offered, the criteria will have to become fully compliant and accessible to suit multiple learning needs.

Creating accessible educational pdf lessons isn’t too difficult, but requires focus and can be time consuming process. Below are a few tips that should help you in creating accessible documents.

1. Set Your Language

Something so easy to forget and yet so crucial to have. Adjust your documents default language under the Advanced tab of the Properties panel to make sure that any assistive technology will follow the language set by your document.

2. Titles Matter

Don’t forget to give your document a proper title. Setting your document to show its title instead of the filename that’s usually set as default is an easy and necessary accessibility trick. While in the Properties panel, under the Initial View tab, change the Window Options from “File Name” to “Document Title”. Now any assistive technology will instantly reference the document for its title instead of any given file name.

3. Reading Order

Don’t assume your reading order is correct. Dig deep into the Order Menu. Open the Reading Order panel and have Page Content Order marked – skim through your document to make sure the reading order is set the way you’ve intended. Our

4. Save As You Go

Save, Save, and Save some more. There’s no undo button when organizing the Order and Tags panels, make sure you’re saving often. Occasionally when adjusting content order or moving a tagged element, the text disappears – having that recent saved file to revert back to will save you countless hours and headaches.

5. Check Your Work

The best way is to use the native Acrobat Full Check menu under the Accessibility tool. The check is very precise at flagging accessibility inaccuracies. Refer to it while you’re working on document conversion. Another quick way to check your PDF is changing the way you’re viewing the content. Goto the View menu, you can click Reflow (Command-4 on Mac or Ctrl-4 on Windows) under the Zoom panel to see what the document will look like once all the artifact content is stripped away.

For more information on document accessibility, here’s a few helpful resources

Accessing PDF Documents with Assistive Technology

About 508 Accessibility Standards

Creating Accessible Documents with InDesign