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Creating Accessible Documents

Usually when people talk of a PDF file being accessible it is a ‘tagged’ document. A ‘tag’ in a PDF is similar to a HyperText Markup Language (HTML) tag. Basically it is part of the coding of the document that Assistive Technologies (AT) can recognize, and provide a way for the AT to navigate the document. Preferably tags are assigned in a document when creating a PDF using Adobe’s Acrobat software.

This document will show how to create an accessible PDF file without access to Adobe Acrobat software, by simply using Microsoft Word.

Step 1: Create an Accessible Word Document

Without Adobe Acrobat, the easiest way to create an accessible PDF file is to first begin with an accessible Microsoft Word document. A document entitled ‘Seven Steps to Creating an Accessible Word document’ is available below. For any questions about how to create an accessible Word document take a few minutes to download and review this document.

Follow the directions provided in ‘Seven Steps to Creating an Accessible Word’ document to easily create an accessible Word document. Then simply follow these next few steps to successfully convert the accessible Word document into an accessible PDF file.

Seven Steps to Creating an Accessible Word Document

Step 2: Save as a 'PDF'

Microsoft Word 2007 and Word 2010 (Using Mouse)


In order to save the accessible functionality of an accessible Microsoft Word document it must be ‘saved as’ a PDF. (DO NOT Print it as a PDF. The PDF created by choosing the ‘Print as’ option will not be accessible).
To Save As a PDF using a mouse, from the Office Button menu, hover over the Save As option, then choose PDF.

Office Button Menu Options

In the Publish as PDF menu, enter the File Name and then click on the Options button.

Publish as PDF Screen

In the Options menu box make sure the Document structure tags for accessibility box, is checked. Click on OK and then Publish.

Options Menu

Microsoft Word 2007 and Word 2010 (Using Keyboard)


To Save As PDF using just the keyboard in Word 2007 and 2010 follow these steps:
1. Alt, F, A, type in the file name, Press Tab, Arrow Down to PDF then press Enter.
2. Save As PDF, Tab to the Options button, press Enter.
3. In the Options menu Tab down to the Document structure tags for accessibility box, use the Spacebar to make sure it is checked.
4. Tab to the OK button and Enter.
5. Tab to the Publish button and Enter.

Step 3: Check Accessibility with Screen Reader

Because Adobe Acrobat is the native program for creating PDF files, the PDF just created using this method is possibly not perfectly accessible. However, if it was an accessible Word document, the PDF created should also be accessible and ready for distribution.

Perform a test of the PDF document’s accessibility prior to distributing it either via email or by posting it to the internet. To test a PDF use a screen reader such as JAWS, NVDA, WindowEyes, etc. Preferably, develop an Accessibility Testing team of persons experienced at using Assistive Technologies.