Accessible PDFs – Creating a PDF (1/5)

This is the first of, which I think will be, four part posts series on Accessible PDFs.  I didn’t quite understand how to make a PDF fully accessible until I have read these three very useful articles:

Now I am more comfortable with accessible PDFs and here I am trying to summarise what I have learned about PDF accessibility in bite size chunks. You can find my original blog post at Understanding Accessibility of PDFs.

Converting files to Accessible PDFs

There are different ways of creating PDFs. One would be writing to a PDF file from information in a database from a program. I am not considering about this instance as the accessibility of the document created will depend on the way the program is written and there is not a lot you can do (unless you are redoing the program code!).

But when you are creating a PDF file from what I call a source document (say a Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, etc) using available tools to convert that document to a PDF there are things you can do to enhance the accessibility of the PDF created.

First and foremost making a document accessible in the original is much easier than trying to fix a problem transferred from original to the PDF. So make your source document accessible before converting it to PDF. Check the documents for:

  • headings
  • alternative text for images
  • table structures (make sure table header row etc is indicated)
  • descriptive links
  • lists
  • columns
  • text size, font (San Serif fonts are easier to read), spacing and justification (left justified letters are easier to read)
  • colour contrast
  • not depending on colour to differentiate meaning
  • document title
  • document language

BEFORE converting it into PDF.

You may also want to visit these blog posts from #Accessibility series to get more tips on accessibility:

If you don’t have the source document but only the PDF, you can export the PDF file back to Word, Excel or PowerPoint by using File > Export to where you can address accessibility issues in the original document.

Creating the PDF

Recommended method

When Acrobat is installed on your computer it will also install PDFMaker add-in which will allow creating PDFs files within an Office application. To create a PDF use Acrobat tab and then select Create PDF.

Acrobat tab on Microsoft Word
Figure 1: Acrobat tab on Microsoft Word

Make sure under Preferences > Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF is selected. By default this is selected.

Acrobat PDFMaker Preferences diaglog
Figure 2: Acrobat PDFMaker Preferences diaglog

This method should create a tagged PDF. Tags are essential to make a PDF accessible. I will talk about tags in my next post.

Alternative Method

What if there isn’t an Acrobat tab in your Word application? You can use File > Save As

Word Save As option
Figure 3: Word Save As

Now select File type as PDF (*.pdf) from the drop-down list and this should create a tagged PDF by default. However, if this is not the case check the correct options are selected by going into More options…

and click on More Options.

More Options on Save As
Figure 4: Save As > More Options

Clicking on the More options… will open a new Save As dialog.  Select Options and it will open the Options dialog. Select Document structure tags for accessibility.

Options dialog
Figure 5: Options dialog

This should create an accessible PDF.

NOT Recommended Method

Now I have shown you the methods that can be used to create accessible PDFs. There is also another method of creating a PDF, which will create a completely inaccessible PDF. Using Print > Print to PDF will create a PDF but this will not be accessible. So avoid this option at all costs.