Making PDFs Accessible: Understanding Accessibility

In the first video tutorial in the Making PDFs Accessible series, learn what it means to make a PDF accessible for people with disabilities.

Part 1 - Understanding Accessibility (6:42)

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. -

Go to Part 2 - Authoring in Microsoft Word