Accessibility: PDF for everyone!

How you can check a PDF document for accessibility

Creating accessible PDF documents makes sense. After all, it’s an important way to give people with disabilites access to important content. People who are blind or visually impaired, for example, can use a screen reader to read the text and information contained in such accessible PDF documents. But to do this, the PDF file must meet the following requirements:

  1. Headers and other style elements are used.
  2. Document may contain no images or other graphics, unless these include alternate text descriptions.
  3. Tags are used to provide additional information about the structure of the document.
  4. Bookmarks, hyperlinks, and the like are available to help readers navigate the document.
  5. Security settings must not prevent the use of a screen reader.

At first glance, this all sounds quite logical and understandable. Nevertheless, errors always seem to arise when checking PDF documents for accessibility, which lead to documents being incorrectly categorized and published as accessible. We recommend you pay close attention to the following points whenever you check PDF documents.

The advanced options section of Adobe Acrobat lets you automatically check the accessibibilty of a PDF file. This feature by itself, however, is usually insufficient for reliably validating a document as accessible.

Too often it is assumed that a PDF document that can be reflowed is always suitable for visually disabled users. This reflow option is in fact useful for displaying a PDF file’s content in paragraph form and not as columns. Unfortunately, this feature often leads to errors in how the content is displayed.

As mentioned above, tagging is an outstanding way of structuring PDF documents. Tags must, however, be correct in terms of semantics and syntax otherwise they can present a greater barrier to accessibility than no tags at all.

The ability to use a screen reader to read a PDF document is an important criterion for determining accessibility, but it is not the only requirement the document must satisfy to be considered accessible.

Taken individually, none of these methods provides a sure way of determining accessibility. But, you can make a reliable decision when you consider and apply several or all of them. If a PDF fulfills all five of the requirements listed above, then nothing will stand in the way of it being accessible to everyone.