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 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 Logo
  • SensusAccess/Robobraille is a useful and free web service for converting files, and is available free to Amherst and other five college account holders.   

  • Kurzweil 
    is a program that provides text recognition, as well as text-to-speech and study support tools, and is available free to Amherst account holders.
Kurzweil 3000 logo of a three dimensional cube


Adobe Acrobat DC Logo
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro
    is a program that provides text recognition, the ability to edit PDFs including adding links, headings, and image descriptions, and provides an accessibility check review option. 
  • 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. 
  • Use color deliberately with Adequate Contrast

    • Don’t use color only to convey meaning, instead, combine the 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 the font size is large enough (at least 12 pt) and the color is easily readable.
    • Limit the 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 title and language of the PDF document are required elements for accessibility. The title must be the document's title and not the file name. Automated accessibility scans or checkers will fail PDFs for accessibility that are missing title and/or language information. 
    • Tags are an essential component of the document structure for PDFs. 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 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 Checker

Adobe Acrobat Pro offers an accessibility check tool that scans your document for potential issues, helps to fix some issues, and suggests next steps. 

Need Help?

IT Accessibility-related questions and requests can be entered into the AskIT ticketing system. Select the category “Accessibility," or emailing

Additional Resources