The following guidelines apply to all types of documents: Word, PDF, Powerpoint, email messages, course readings, syllabi, assignments, etc! We also have a guide specific to creating accessible documents.
Our primary goal is to make documents accessible to users of assistive technology. A bonus is that following these guidelines will make your documents more user-friendly for all.
Accessible Document Checklist | Accessibility Wizard and Checker | Need Help | Additional Resources
Accessible and Searchable PDFs Checklist
Make sure PDF documents are image and text (not image only), legible, and available in advance
- Creating a fully accessible PDF can be complicated, but these steps will let you solve basic problems and assess if you may need outside assistance.
- Bonus – Accessible PDFs also are searchable PDFs! The process of making a PDF accessible also makes it possible to search for text within a PDF document, as well as to search for specific PDF files among other files in a folder or on a computer or storage drive.
- Share digital materials as far ahead of time as you can.
- A physical piece of paper presents a barrier to people with print disabilities. Always offer an additional (accessible!) digital version.
- Use simple, easy-to-read fonts.
- These steps require the full version of Acrobat, currently called Adobe Acrobat Pro. Adobe Acrobat Reader does not contain these features.
If you are converting scans into PDFs, make sure text is Searchable/Selectable
- Can you select the text in your PDF document with your mouse, or copy and paste it? If not, it’s saved as an image, which is not accessible nor searchable.
- Several tools are available to recognize and convert PDF image content into text:
SensusAccess/Robobraille is a useful and free web service for converting files available to Amherst account holders.
Kurzweil is a program that provides text recognition, as well as text-to-speech and study support tools, available freely to Amherst account holders.
- Create and verify PDF accessibility (Acrobat Pro) - text recognition - external link to adobe.com
Ensure Images and Charts have Descriptions, aka "Alt Text" or "Alt Tags"
- Does an image represent or contain relevant information to your audience? Make sure to add a description for people who cannot see it.
- Add alt text for images or figures in PDFs
- For dots and lines, mark these images as decorative.
- For simple graphs or charts, a description that includes the relevant information or main “takeaway” from the chart is sufficient.
- For more complex data, think of adding a properly formatted data table as a replacement or contact email@example.com for assistance.
Use color deliberately with Adequate Contrast
- Don’t use color only to convey meaning, combine use of color with text, labels or symbols.
- Instead of red/green colors, use words (emphasis) or *surround text with asterisks* to create emphasis
- Make sure font size is large enough (at least 12 pt) and color is easily readable.
- Limit use of background images which can make text difficult to read.
- Manually check reading order.
Make your links Descriptive and Unique
- Screen-reader users often use a keyboard shortcut to list all the links on a page. In such a list, the links do not pick up the surrounding text.
- A descriptive link describes where users will go if they click it.
- For example, instead of “Click here to see our President’s Welcome,” say “See our President’s Welcome.”
- Descriptive link names also make pages more scannable for sighted users.
- Make your link names descriptive in PDFs.
- Highlight the text, then use
Use Headings and Consider Your Document Structure
- Users of assistive technology rely on heading levels to navigate documents.
- The PDF document title and language are required elements for accessibility. The title should be the title of the document and must not be the file name. Automated accessibility scans or checkers will fail PDFs for accessiblity that are missing title and/or language information.
- For PDFs, tags provide the document structure. Learn more about tags and document structure.
- You may need to edit your PDF document reading order so that those using keyboard or no mouse navigation can navigate as needed through the document and so that screen reader technology reads the content in a logical order. Learn more about PDF reading order and the Adobe Acrobat Pro Reading Order tool.
- In Microsoft Word, make sure to use heading styles to format text headings.
- Edit the Word Normal template to change the styling of default headings font, size, etc. (Mac instructions)
- Avoid floating elements such as text boxes.
- In PowerPoint, use built-in slide layouts so that slide titles and slide text have the correct structure and labels for screen readers.
- Use pre-formatted bulleted and numbered lists and columns instead of formatting manually or using tables for layout rather than for data.
Accessibility Wizard and Checker
Adobe Acrobat Pro now offers a make accessible action wizard which goes through the PDF accessibility process in a step by step way. Also, Adobe Acrobat Pro continues to have an accessibility check tool which scans your document for potential issues and suggests next steps.
- Use the Adobe Acrobat Pro "make accessible" action wizard
- Use the Acrobat Acrobat Pro "accessibility check" tool
IT Accessibility-related questions and requests can be entered into the AskIT ticketing system, selecting the category “Accessibility”, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Use Adobe's guide to Create and Verify PDF accessibility (Acrobat Pro) and guide to Creating accessible PDFs that includes a suggested workflow process to follow.
- Use the Acrobat Acrobat Pro "accessibility check" tool
- CodeMantra's instructions for How to quickly tell if a PDF is accessible
- Use the PDF/UA Foundation's PAC 2021 free PDF accessibility checker (requires downloading an application)
- The W3C organizaiton's PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0
- You can work with a vendor to have a PDF professionally remediated to be certified accessible. We recommend using a vendor to create accessible and fillable PDF forms. We recommend the vendors Accessible Document Solutions and Allyant (formerly CommonLook).