Making PDFs Accessible (complete 14:11)

Learn about the optimal workflow for creating accessible PDF files. First, learn why accessibility is so important, followed by how to work with PDFs created from Microsoft Word, then finish with Accessibility tools in Acrobat Pro.

Available in Acrobat Pro only.
Hello, my name is Rob Haverty. I am an accessibility product manager at Adobe with focus on Acrobat Pro DC and other Adobe Document Cloud products and PDF accessibility. Today I’m going to talk about the optimum workflow for creating an accessible PDF document. In my 25 years of working in accessibility. I have never been more excited than I am now at the focus people have on making sure that all of their content is fully accessible for people with disabilities, including folks who might be blind or have low vision or have mobility or cognitive challenges. The challenge today with PDF documents, however, is that most of them are not accessible. In order to make a PDF document accessible to people with disabilities who are using specialized tools or assistive technologies such as screen readers, we need to enhance the information that is provided in that document. By doing so, a screen reader can expose the content and structure of the document, and read it out to the individual who is using that screen reader. Additionally, folks may need to use keyboards to navigate through the document using the tab key or the arrow key. And this will allow them to do that as well. So when we look at a document - visually - things like headings and subheadings, paragraphs, bulleted or numbered lists, tables all provide structure that we can see and understand the document better. Headings allow us to easily parse the document and maybe skip ahead to a section we’re most interested in. Tables tell us that there are headings and data in that table so we can understand the relationship of the data to the headings. Lists let us know that this is specialized content that is different than a paragraph and needs to be considered as a whole. We look at this visually and we understand the document better. The same is true for someone who’s using assistive technology such as a screen reader. We need to enhance the document with something that we call “tags”, which expose that information to the assistive technology. A heading tag will allow the screen reader user to then navigate through that document. By heading, it’s much like having an outline of the document. Or they would get to a list and it would tell them that they are in a list and these are the items in the list and they’ve now left the list and we’re back into the regular content. Or tables, understanding that a data cell relates to certain heading cells. All of this structure needs to be exposed correctly. If we did not expose this information - think about it again visually - without these headings and these lists, it would be like reading a document that is composed of just one sentence, followed by another - which makes it very difficult to parse and to understand the meaning of the content. Some other specialized things that we need to provide for assistive technology is descriptive text about images. We call this ALT Text, or alternate text. If you take for example the image in the document on the screen that has the hand with the pen on the form. You might want to explain that… …this is a document that is a form that allows you to fill it out. Without that descriptive text, it is just an image with no context. And then - contrast. We need to make sure that the colors we use particularly for text, contrasts sufficiently against the background. Someone with low vision will be able to actually see that document to be able to read it. When we talk about the optimal workflow, I’m going to use Microsoft Word as an example because this really is the optimal or best workflow. If you start in Word and create an accessible Word document by using styles such as those headings, or those lists, or tables to correctly structure the document. You add this descriptive text to the images - this ALT text and then you run the Word accessibility checker to check for any problems. Then you have the most accessible Word document you can. By using the Acrobat plug-in in Word, you could convert that document to a tagged PDF. You now have an accessible PDF document which you can then open in Acrobat Pro DC to sort of poly shop. You may want to adjust some of the tags if they didn’t get tagged exactly correctly. You’ll need to review things like tables or lists, or the alternate text for the images. or complex tables - in order to correct those and make sure they’re as accessible as possible Then, run the accessibility checker in Acrobat in order to check your work. Now that’s the optimum workflow, but there are many other workflows as well. You may be working in scan documents, creating form fields in a form, dealing with links, role mapping, or complex tables. We have other trainings that have been recorded at You can access those in order to learn about these more complex workflows.
I’m going to switch over now to a Word document. If we look at this document, we’re going to see… at the very top we have a heading If I select that heading and go into Styles in the ribbon on the Home tab open that, you’ll notice that heading one has a gray box around it. I selected that style for that heading. If I go down to the next heading in the document and open the styles again, you’ll see that that is a Heading 2. This allows the screen reader user to, in effect, create that outline to be able to quickly parse the document and understand what’s in it. If I scroll down the document and go to lists, we’ll notice a bulleted list. When I select, notice it up here in the ribbon. It changed. It’s shaded. We used that style. If I go to the numbered list it moves over to the numbered list style. This allows the screen reader to understand that it’s in a list and it is a unique set of information. If we scroll down to the table, and select it … at the very top of the ribbon we get two new tabs: the Design and Layout tabs. I select that Design tab. I want to draw your attention to over here on the left where we have the header row and the first column checkboxes. This allows you to indicate that the first row are column headers and the first column are row headers. Again, making it easier for a screen reader to expose that information to an assistive technology. Now if we go back up to the ribbon, but we head towards the right. We’re going to see a tab that says Acrobat. This is the plug-in you get automatically when you have Acrobat Pro DC and Microsoft Office on the same machine. If we select that tab, you will see the Acrobat ribbon come up what we’re interested in here is over in the left. You can leave all the settings at the default. If we click on Create PDF. We’ll get a dialog to save it, and then a progress indicator showing that is it is converting it to a PDF. When it’s done, it will automatically open it in Acrobat Pro DC for us. Let’s look at this screen for just a moment. Over here on the left is what we can call the navigation pane. You’ll notice at the bottom a little luggage tag. This is the tag tree, and we’ll talk about that in detail in a moment. Over here on the right is the tools pane which gives you some tools to use to make it easier to create that accessible PDF. I’m going to collapse that right now and open my tag Tree by clicking on the luggage tag icon. You’ll notice that we have these tags that indicate the structure and the content of the document. If we select this very first H1… we’ll see the pink box around our Heading One that we created in Word It has the correct tag. The H1 tag. Same with the H2 tag. That heading is correctly tagged because we did it correctly in Word and the conversion automatically tags it correctly. We scroll down to one of the list tags, or the “L” tags We’ll notice that we now have the list and all the list items are tagged correctly. If we scroll down a little bit further, and bring the table into view in our document, we select the table tag. Because the PDF UA standard… Now, the PDF UA standard is an ISO standard that describes what is needed in the way of tags to make a document accessible. One of the things it says is the tag tree must be in the logical reading order. Because of that, I live almost completely in the tag tree and we’ve made the workflow optimized for that experience. If I select this table tag, and I right click, I can go directly into the table editor. You’ll notice because we checked those boxes… Remember those boxes in the Design tab in Word? Because we checked the boxes for the column headers and the row headers. I have them as green in my tool. And then the data cells are gray. So they automatically got created correctly. Now, there is always some work to do on tables and that is explained in the trainings that I mentioned previously. Now let’s look over here on the right side and go back to our tools pane. And I want to highlight a couple of tools that make it easier for you to create that accessible PDF document. We’ll start with the accessibility tool itself. In that are a number of tools. The first one I want to highlight is Autotag Document. This allows you to tag a PDF document that wasn’t previously tagged. Maybe you don’t have this optimum workflow where you’re working from the Word document. You can still auto-generate tags for that document and save yourself time. You can run the Accessibility Checker to check your work. And, you can Set Alternate Text, the descriptive text for the images You can do them all in one series by using the Alternate Text Tool. I’m going to close that. I want to go to the next tool I have in my list which is Organize Pages. This will allow you… If you need to edit a page in a document that has already been tagged correctly, you can pull that page out, edit it, retag it correctly, insert it back into your document, and the tag tree will automatically readjust to be in the logical reading order. The last tool I want to mention is the Prepare Form tool. The Prepare Form tool allows you to auto-detect form fields. Again, saving you time in creating that accessible PDF document. In closing, I just want to highlight that by using Acrobat Pro DC, our advanced tools, and our accessibility workflow, it will make the experience of creating an accessible PDF easier and it will save you hours of time on working on those documents. Thank you very much for your time.