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Creating Accessible Documents


According to the Department of Rehabilitation's Disability Access Services (2014), "it is estimated that up to 4% of the population relies on some sort of Assistive Technology to access electronic documents and Web pages. Assistive Technology includes; Screen Reading software, Refreshable Braille displays, and Screen Magnifiers. In the United States alone that equals 12.5 million people. If electronic documents are not created with accessibility issues in mind, they become very difficult if not impossible to read or navigate for this large number of people.

Accessibility to electronic documents is a right that is protected by both Federal and State law. Creating accessible electronic documents is important to ensure access to persons with disabilities and the company or agency is protected against legal action. Additionally, it is just good business, when a very large segment of the population can equally participate and take advantage of the products or services that the company or agency provides."


Department of Rehabilitation's Disability Access Services (2014). Seven steps to creating an accessible Microsoft Word document. Retrieved from

Creating Accessible PDF Documents

1. Create an Accessible Word Document

Before publishing your PDF…

  • Utilize accessible font styles (Helvetica, Avant Garde, Arial, Geneva, Tahoma)
  • Ensure accessible color contrast between text and backgrounds with WebAIM's online Color Contrast Checker.
  • Include Alternative (Alt) Text for all images
  • Run the Accessibility Checker and amend accessibility issues

2. Export the Word Document and Create an Adobe PDF

  • Go to the “File” tab and click “Export”
  • Click “Create PDF/XPS Document”
  • If prompted, save the PDF document in a preferred location

3. Set the Reading Order

  • Select the tool “Accessibility,” and within its menu, click “Reading Order”
  • Clear the document’s automated selections within the Reading Order window by clicking “Clear Page Structure…”
  • Move cursor and draw textbox around first piece of text on document
  • Select type of content in “Reading Order” window
  • In the “Order Panel,” right-click on extraneous tags and delete the selection

4. Insert Alternative Text (if applicable)

  • Right-click on tag number of selected figure
  • Select “Edit Alternate Text…”
  • If image is decorative, type, “No alternate text needed for decorative image”
  • If image conveys information, type information conveyed in the image

5. Run Accessibility Check

  • In the Accessibility tool’s sidebar, select “Full Check”
  • In the “Accessibility Checker Options” window, select: “Create accessibility report,” “All pages in document,” “Category: Document,” “Accessibility permission flag is set,” “Document is not image-only PDF,” “Document is tagged PDF,” “Document structure provides a logical reading order,” “Text language is specified,” “Document title is showing in title bar,” “Bookmarks are present in large documents,” “Document has appropriate color contrast, and “Show this dialog when the Checker starts”
  • Click “Start Checking”
  • Within the Accessibility Checker sidebar, review the accessibility issues and right-click to amend errors

Additional Tips and Tricks

Maximizing the Accessibility Experience in Reading PDF Documents

Some students might have trouble working with PDF files with a maximized accessibility experience.  For example, students might prefer their PDF files to open in Adobe Acrobat Reader versus within an internet browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.  Please find the steps below from Adobe in how to accomplish this accessibility feature:

For Internet Explorer:

  1. Under tools, choose “Manage Add-Ons”

  2. Under add-on types, select “Toolbars and Extensions”

  3. In the show menu, select “All Add-Ons.

  4. In the list of add-ons, select Adobe PDF Reader. Select disable if you want the pdf to open in the Adobe window, enable will open it in the browser.

NOTE: You may have to turn off any adobe add-on to get this to work and there may be multiple adobe add-ons that you have to disable if you wish for the file to open within the reader instead of the browser.

For Google Chrome:

  1. Go to the menu item and choose “Settings”

  2. Scroll to the bottom and select “Advanced”

  3. In the “Privacy and Security” section, select “Content Settings”

  4. Scroll down and select pdf documents

  5. On the button that says download pdf documents rather than opening them in Google Chrome, having this button pressed or checked will open the files in adobe, not pressing or checking this will open the files in the browser.

NOTE: Chrome might produce a message that says the download was complete.  Press Shift + F6 to switch to the download, and the file will begin opening in the Adobe Acrobat window.

For Mozilla Firefox:

According to adobe, the current versions of Firefox are not supporting Adobe plugins and thus they won’t work.  Within Firefox, the only detected adobe extension under tools manager was disabled, yet the browser was rendering PDF documents in a less accessible format than they were being rendered in PDF, so for viewing these files, Firefox does not appear to be an ideal solution.

For Macbook Users:

Safari has a built-in PDF reader that automatically displays PDF documents right in the browser window. You don't have to download and install a separate PDF reader app. In the Safari app on your Mac, click the PDF link. Move the pointer to the bottom center of the PDF page to see controls.

If you want to read a PDF on your iPhone, you can save the PDF file and have it read several ways, including the Books application, where you can read the file and resume where you left off if you need to close the file, which is a built-in iPhone setting.

Resource: Apple (n.d.). See a PDF in Safari on a Mac. Retrieved from

For PC Users:

For users of PC browsers, you can turn on a feature within Adobe settings to resume where you left off if you close the file.  To do this:

  1. Click on “Preferences” under the edit toolbar

  2. Select the category “Documents”

  3. Check the “Restore last view settings when reopening documents” box

Troubleshooting PDF Forms

If a student who uses JAWS or another screen reader is unable to electronically fill a PDF form, please do the following:

  1. In Adobe Acrobat, click on "Edit" and then "Preferences..."
  2. Within the "Categories:" sidebar, select "Reading"
  3. Under "Reading Order Options," uncheck the "Override the reading order in tagged documents" checkbox
  4. Select "OK"