How To Create 508 Compliant Adobe PDF Documents
To make an accessible PDF document, start by creating an accessible document in Microsoft Word (or other Office app) now enhanced in Microsoft 365 and then use "Save As" to convert it to a PDF. By using the built-in features within Word, you can avoid many of the common accessibility mistakes. Content must be properly tagged so that a screen reader can know what kind of information the content represents. Such elements include headers, body text, lists, images, backgrounds, and tables. Using the Styles in Word will also ensure that your document is bookmarked properly. All correctly formatted documents from Word will be tagged and bookmarked correctly on the portal site. Read more about Word accessibility and best practices before you begin.
Note that Adobe has a built-in accessibility checker in the Tools section.
Besides converting a Word document into PDF, another method for creating a PDF is scanning a paper copy of the document. If you choose to scan, run the Text Recognition (OCR) feature of Adobe Acrobat to make the text accessible to a screen reader and then run the accessibility checker to ensure that the document meets the other accessibility requirements. Without running the Text Recognition function, scanned text is simply an image and therefore not accessible.
Read the table below and then visit the links on the right below the Related Pages area for more information and some video tutorials. Note that the
blue italicized items on the left columns apply to all Microsoft Office files and serve as sound guiding principles for creating accessible documents from any other program.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating a PDF from Word
Test and Debug a PDF for 508 Compliance (Acrobat Pro) *
Test and Debug a PDF for 508 Compliance (Acrobat Pro DC) *
*To determine which version you have, find the program under the Start menu of your computer or right-click on the desktop icon and choose Properties. To compare the two products, check out this matrix.
Best Practices Related to PDF Documents
Visual Example (click images to enlarge)
Use the built-in style headings of your source program to create a visual heading in your document. For example, in MS Word, Styles can be found on the Home tab within the Styles panel. Using Styles will ensure that your document is properly bookmarked and tagged when converted to PDF format.
Do not manually create a heading by simply bolding or changing the font size or color.
|Bulleted and Numbered Lists|
Use the built-in list feature of your source program for bulleted and numbered lists. For example, in MS Word, Lists can be found from the Home tab within the Paragraph panel.
Do not create a list by typing the number at the beginning of every line or typing a hyphen as an example.
Table of Contents|
Use the built-in Table of Contents feature of your source program to build a table of contents in a document. For example, in MS Word, the Table of Contents feature is found on the Reference tab within the Table of Contents panel.
Do not type a table of contents manually.
|Comments and Track Changes|
Finalize your source document by
removing all comments and accepting or rejecting track changes (in MS Word) before converting the document to PDF format. Under the Review tab, ensure you are seeing all markup and that none display in the document.
not have comments, annotations, or tracked changes within your final document.
Converting Scanned Text|
Run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) (Text Recognition function) to convert a scanned image of text to readable text.
Do not leave scanned text in the document.
Article boxes for Columnar Reading|
Define any articles in your document that skip from page to page or column to column (common in newsletters and newspapers). Defining articles in your PDF document allows someone to follow the article without having to manually skip around in the document. If your document is sequential in nature and does not use columns, then this is an unnecessary step.
Do not include articles that cause a reader to skip from page to page or from column to column without defining the articles in your document.
Check the reading order of the document, especially if using columns, to ensure that a screen reader views the content in the proper order.
Do not use tables for layout functions.
Use fonts that are clear and legible (e.g., Arial or Times New Roman), generally in the 10 to 14 point range. The spacing in the document should be enough to show paragraph breaks clearly. Spacing between lines should be at least 120% of the font size. This is the default in Word.
Do not use fancy fonts that are more decorative than functional. This is especially important in headings.
Create hyperlinks using descriptive words for the hyperlink. Hyperlinks can be inserted from the Insert tab and then Hyperlink on the Links panel. Always double check that your hyperlinks work.
Do not use "Click here" or "More" as hyperlinks.
DAU Home Page (link states where it goes, not just Click Here)
Alt Text and Captions|
Insert Alternative Text (ALT text) and captions for informational images and tables. For Images, right click on the image and choose Insert Caption. Right click on the image and choose Format Picture, and then click the third icon over and click on ALT TEXT. For tables, right click on the table and choose Table Properties. The 5th tab is for ALT Text.
Do not provide ALT text or captions for non-informational or simply decorative images. When you run the accessibility checker, this error should be ignored. The checker can only identify that the image does not have a tag. It does not know that it is a non-informational image.
If you have multiple images or objects that are layered over one another, combine them into one image. You may be able to do this using the Group option or using a third party tool such as SnagIt.
|Do not overlay or group several objects next to one another so they appear as one object.||no example|
|Using Color to Convey Meaning|
When using color to convey meaning, add a non-color method as well, such as text as shown in the visual example column.
|Do not use color alone to convey meaning.||
Ready for Release
Use a strong color contrast between text and backgrounds. Black and white is always a good choice. This is not usually checked via Microsoft applications. It requires a visual check.
|Some examples for Don'ts: Do not use white text on a light gray background. Do not use red and green text and highlighting together. Do not use red text on a black background.||no example|
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Adobe Accessibility Checker - Understand the Inspection Results
After the Accessibility Checker inspects your content, it reports the inspection results. Because the Full Check feature can't distinguish between essential and nonessential content types, some issues it reports don't affect readability. You should review all issues to determine which ones require correction. The report displays one of the following statuses for each rule check:
Passed: The item is accessible.
Skipped By User: Rule was not checked because it wasn't selected in the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box.
Needs Manual Check: The Full Check feature couldn't check the item automatically. Verify the item manually.
Failed: The item didn't pass the accessibility check.
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Most Common Accessibility Issues Related to PDF Documents
To fix a failed check after running Full Check, right-click the item in the Accessibility Checker panel and choose one of the following options from the context menu:
Fix: Acrobat either fixes the item automatically or displays a dialog box prompting you to fix the item manually.
Skip Rule: Deselects this option in the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box for future checks of this document and changes the item status to Skipped.
Explain: Opens the online help.
Check Again: Runs the checker again on all items. Choose this option after modifying one or more items.
Show Report: Displays a report with links to tips on how to repair failed checks.
Options: Opens the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box so you can select which checks are performed.
Visual Example (click images to enlarge)
Reports whether the document contains nontext content that is not accessible. If the document appears to contain text, but doesn't contain fonts, it could be an image-only PDF file.
To fix this rule check automatically, select Image-only PDF on the Accessibility Checker panel and choose Fix from the Options menu. Or to fix this rule check manually, use OCR to recognize text in scanned images:
- Choose Tools > Recognition > In This File.
- Select All Pages in the Recognize Text dialog box, and then select OK.
|In this example, the document passed the Image-only test; however, had it not, right-click to show the menu choices.|
|Logical Reading Order|
Reading order is set by the document tags. Make sure that the reading order displayed coincides with the logical reading order of the document.
This rule is always marked as “Needs manual check”. To do so, click the Reading Order icon in the far-left column, then start clicking through the items listed in the Order column to ensure they flow correctly. If they do not, return to the source document (i.e., Word document) and follow the best practices to tag the document properly, then convert to PDF and run the accessibility checker again.
Reports whether there is a title in the Acrobat application title bar.
To fix the title automatically, select Title in the Accessibility Checker tab and choose Fix from the Options menu. Enter the document title in the Description dialog box (deselect Leave As Is, if necessary). Or, fix the title manually:
- Choose File > Properties > Description.
- Enter a title in the Title text box.
- Click Initial View, and then choose Document Title from the Show drop-down list.
- Click OK to close the Description dialog box.
|Opt for the automatic fix:|
Or choose to fix manually:
This check fails when the document has 21 or more pages but doesn't have bookmarks that parallel the document structure.
Select Bookmarks on the Accessibility Checker panel and then choose Fix from the Options menu. In the Structure Elements dialog box, select the elements that you want to use as bookmarks and click OK. (You can also access the Structure Elements dialog box by clicking the Options menu on the Bookmark tab and selecting the New Bookmarks From Structure command.)
Opt for the automatic fix:
Or choose to fix manually:
When this check fails, it's possible that the document contains content that isn't accessible to people who are color-blind.
This rule is always marked as “Needs manual check”. To fix this issue, make sure that the document's content adheres to the guidelines outlined in
WCAG section 1.4.3. Or, include a recommendation that the PDF viewer use high-contrast colors:
- Choose Edit > Preferences.
- Click Accessibility.
- Select Replace Document Colors, and then select Use High-Contrast Colors.
- Choose the color combination that you want from the drop-down list, and then click OK.
Set your preferences to ensure high contrast colors for screen readers:
Once this is done, choose Pass to mark this item “manually passed”.
Reports whether all content in the document is tagged. Make sure that all content in the document is either included in the Tags tree or marked as an artifact.
From the original source document (i.e., Word document), follow the best practices (see Styles in the Best Practices table above) to ensure the document is properly tagged, then convert to PDF and recheck the accessibility. If the source document is not available, then do one of the following to fix this rule check:
- Open the Content panel and right-click the content that you want to mark as an artifact. Then, select Create Artifact from the context menu. (To display the Content tab, choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Content.)
- Tag the content by choosing Tools > Accessibility > Reading Order. Right-click on the content, and then apply tags as necessary.
- Assign tags using the Tags panel. Right-click the element in the Tags tree, and choose Create Tag From Selection. Items such as comments, links, and annotations don't always appear in the Tags tree. To find these items, choose Find from the Options menu. (To display the Tags panel, choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags.)
To mark an artifact (such as a background image):
To tag content:
To assign tags using the Tags panel:
Checks whether all annotations are tagged.
Make sure that annotations such as comments and editorial marks (e.g., insert and highlight) are either included in the Tags tree or marked as artifacts. Do one of the following:
- Open the Content panel and right-click the content that you want to mark as an artifact. Then select Create Artifact from the context menu. (To display the Content panel, choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Content.)
- Tag the content by choosing Tools > Accessibility > Reading Order. Select the content, and then apply tags as necessary.
- Assign tags using the Tags panel. (To display the Tags panel, choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags.)
To have Adobe assign tags automatically to annotations as they're created, choose Tag Annotations from the Options menu on the Tags panel.
(See screenshots from Tagged Content above.)
Alternate text can't hide an annotation. If an annotation is nested under a parent element with alternate text, then screen readers don't see it.
To remove alternate text from nested elements:
- Choose View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags.
- Right-click a nested element in the Tags panel and choose Properties from the context menu.
- Remove the alternate text from the Object Properties dialog box, and then click OK.
Tables – Headers|
For accessibility, it's necessary that all tables in the PDF have a header.
Tables are/can be difficult to check for accessibility, so ideally their use is restricted to simple data tables. Never use tables for text/document layout purposes. Read more about testing/fixing accessibility issues with tables here: https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/editing-document-structure-content-tags.html#add_alternate_text_and_supplementary_information_to_tags
Tables – Summary|
Table summaries are optional, but can improve accessibility.
To add a table summary:
- Choose Tools > Accessibility > Reading Order.
- Right-click on the table in the Order box and choose Show Reading Order Panel from the context menu.
- Select the table by drawing a rectangle around it, and then click Table in the Reading Order Panel.
- Right-click on the table and choose Edit Table Summary.
- Enter a summary and click OK.
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Content Creator and Approver Training
Please read this checklist for a specific list of items to review in your document:
PDF File 508 Checklist
Adobe has a built-in accessibility checker, which is located under the Tools section.
For more detailed tutorials on how to create 508 compliant documents view videos below. Recommended that you use Microsoft 365 for the best experience:
Microsoft 365 Browser version
This video describes how to use the Accessibility Checker and the accessibility features in Microsoft 365.
Word 2013 & 2016: Converting to PDF (9:59)
This step-by-step video guides you through the process of converting a Word 2013/2016 document to an accessible PDF document.
Eight Essentials for Creating Accessible PDF Documents (15:12)
This video describes the eight essential elements for creating accessible PDF documents.
Ensuring Your PDF is Accessible (5:58)
This video guides you through creating accessible PDF documents from numerous applications such as Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, and more.
Acrobat: More Accessible PDFs (8:47)
This video provides instructions on making PDF documents more accessible using Adobe Acrobat Pro. Topics include converting scanned documents to OCR, setting the tab order, setting table headers, determining whether a document has been tagged or not, tagging an untagged document, adding ALT text to images, changing the reading order, and marking paragraphs as text.
Additional tutorials on how to create 508 compliant PDF documents:
Making Accessible PDFs
A step-by-step guide to creating accessible PDF documents from Word..
How to Ensure Your PDF file is Accessible Using Acrobat XI
An online guide on creating accessible and complaint PDF documents through Acrobat XI Pro.
PDF Accessibility Overview
A basic review of PDF documents and an overview of accessibility features. Contains tips and guidelines for making documents accessible but does not give any step-by-step instructions. Recommended to understand the concept of accessibility.
More Training from AcrobatUsers.com
The Acrobat Users site contains many useful tutorials for a variety of versions of Acrobat, beyond just accessibility training. A good site to bookmark.
An excellent overview of articles in PDF documents complete with steps on viewing an editing various types of articles.