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How to Convert a Document to Accessible PDF

By February 17, 2021 February 19th, 2021 ACCESSIBLE DOCUMENTS
accessible pdf

Converting your document into a PDF and publishing it online does not necessarily mean it’s an accessible PDF and everyone is able to read it. In fact, in many cases, users who are blind, who have low or limited vision, or are print restricted can’t access the contents of online PDFs. 

What Is an Accessible PDF?

An accessible PDF enables individuals with disabilities such as blindness or low vision to ‘read’ PDF documents with the help of assistive technology software and devices such as:

  • Screen readers
  • Screen magnifiers
  • Text-to-speech (TTS) software
  • Voice-recognition software
  • Refreshable Braille displays
  • Alternative input devices

“When people talk about ‘accessible’ PDF files, they are usually referring to ‘tagged’ PDF files. PDF tags provide a hidden, structured representation of the PDF content that is presented to screen readers. They exist for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF file. There is more to an accessible PDF file than tags, but an untagged PDF would not be considered ‘accessible’.” Source

An accessible PDF is a fully tagged document, structured so that people who are reading your document with their accessibility software or device receive the information in the proper, logical order.

Image- and text-based PDFs (i.e., standard PDFs) are simply not compatible with assistive technology like screen readers and therefore not accessible.

An accessible PDF can be accessed by individuals with disabilities, primarily those who are blind or vision-impaired, with the use of assistive technology, which reads the file through screen reading software, text-to-speech software, or a refreshable braille device.  A PDF document is considered accessible if it meets WCAG 2.1 web accessibility guidelines.

How Do You Make a PDF Accessible?

First, keep in mind the following recommended core steps which are needed for document accessibility regardless of whether your document is in PDF, HTML, Microsoft Word, Adobe, or another format:

  • Use headings (document title)
  • Use lists
  • Use columns
  • Use legible text size
  • Use good contrast (no color reliance)
  • Use meaningful hyperlinks
  • Add alternate text to images
  • Identify document language
  • Use tables wisely

Assistive technology tools such as screen readers or text-to-speech software allow users to navigate menus, tabs, or windows with the use of a keyboard rather than a mouse. Without tags in place in the PDF, there isn’t a way for these assistive tools to read the contents of the document in the correct order.

Fully tagged documents provide assistive technology tools with an outline of the PDF that properly structures the reading order of the document. Adobe added tagging specifically to allow screen readers and text-to-speech and other technologies to read aloud PDF documents. When a PDF is fully tagged the screen reading technology can navigate the document in the correct order, which greatly enhancing understanding of the content.

Images that have alternative text (alt-text) added can also be read when properly tagged in the PDF. Creating an accessible PDF doesn’t change the actual view of the PDF rather it provides a “view” of the PDF that works with assistive technology tools.

Some Requirements of Remediation

  • Tags and tabbing order determine the correct reading order
  • Table of Contents and Bookmarks allow the user to access content they really need
  • Descriptive text (ALT-Text) for images and graphics ensure all users understand the message
  • Forms are electronically fillable while using adaptive technologies, allowing all users to independently complete them
  • Colour contrast and font size guidelines ensure readers with low vision can see all content

Faster Conversion of Accessible PDF Documents

T-Base converts standard print documents into accessible PDF documents so that your customers who are blind or who have low vision can access that important information. T-Base’s quality transcription team has extensive experience converting all types of documents into accessible PDFs.

T-Base is a proud member of the PDF Association and promotes the adoption and implementation of International Standards for PDF technology. T-Base PDFs adhere to ISO standard 14289 PDF/UA.

Jeff Jullion

Author Jeff Jullion

Manager of Education Accessibility Communications  at T-Base Communications Inc.

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