Accessible PDF Documents

Instructors often use scanned documents saved as PDFs as part of their course materials.  PDF (Portable Document Format) is an electronic file format developed by Adobe Systems, Inc.  This format is one of the most popular file formats used on the Internet.  Due to the ubiquitous nature of the format, it is necessary to make PDFs accessible to all users.        
To be accessible to adaptive technologies, a PDF document requires:
  • A logical structure and reading order
  • Alternative text descriptions for visual elements
  • Navigational aids
  • Security that does not interfere with adaptive technologies

Scanning an Accessible PDF

Creating an accessible document starts at the early stages of file creation.  If you are scanning a large, loose-leaf document, the Media Development Center in Hale Library has the tools you will need.  The HP Scanjet N9120 is a good choice for this task.  MDC staff is available should any questions arise.
  1. Open: HP Smart Document Scan Software.
  2. Select CREATE A SEARCHABLE GRAYSCALE PDF FILE.
  3. Check the radio button for DUPLEX (2-SIDED FROM FEEDER.)
  4. Place document on scanner as shown on scanning tray.
  5. Click on the SCAN button to start. [Note: If the scanner misfeeds, use the window to see which pages were scanned and prepare document with the next page on top and click SCAN MORE PAGES on the scanning window.]
  6. When the document is done, click the DONE SCANNING button.
  7. The PDF automatically saves to the DOCUMENTS folder on the desktop.
  8. RENAME the file and move it according to your needs. 

Recognize Text Using OCR (Optical Character Recognition)

If you already have a PDF of the document, it is necessary to scan through the file and confirm the text is recognizable for accessibility purposes.  This allows screen readers and similar software to analyze the text in a document.
  1. Open the PDF document in Acrobat Pro and click VIEW> TOOLS> RECOGNIZE TEXT.
  2. After clicking RECOGNIZE TEXT, a right-hand toolbar will appear requiring you to choose whether the scan will be within the current file or multiple files.
  3. Choose IN THIS FILE, indicated by the AA symbol.
  4. Next a box will appear asking which pages you would like the scan to run.
  5. Choosing ALL PAGES will ensure that each page is scanned correctly.
  6. Click OK.
  7. The program will automatically go through the file recognizing the text.
  8. When it is complete click OK and SAVE the document.

Structure TAGS and Proper Reading Order

To read a document's text, a screen reader requires that the document be structured.  Document structure tags in a PDF define the reading order and identify headings, paragraphs, sections, tables, and other page elements.  The tags structure also allows for documents to be resized for viewing at larger sizes and on mobile devices.
  1. Open the PDF document you wish to refine and click VIEW> TOOLS> ACCESSIBILITY.
  2. After clicking ACCESSIBILITY, a right-hand toolbar will appear allowing you to select the option ADD TAGS TO DOCUMENT.
  3. When it is complete, SAVE the document.
  4. Review the structure, and if changes are necessary, use the TOUCH UP READING ORDER TOOL.

Alternative Text

If the document has images, alternative text must be added.
  1. Click VIEW> TOOLS> ACCESSIBILITY.  
  2. After clicking ACCESSIBILITY, a right-hand toolbar will appear. Click on TOUCH UP READING ORDER.
  3. Select the image.
  4. Click on FIGURE/CAPTION.
  5. Right-click on the image and select EDIT ALTERNATIVE TEXT.
  6. Add a meaningful description of the picture in the dialogue box.
  7. Click OK.

Running an Accessibility Check Throughout the Document

Accessibility checks are designed to assist the creator of the file in identifying areas within a document that may have accessibility concerns.  By running a FULL CHECK, Adobe will identify areas of concern and provide instructions on how to fix the errors within the document.  It is recommended that you first recognize the text and add structure tags before running a full check on your document.
  1. Open the PDF document you wish to refine and click VIEW> TOOLS> ACCESSIBILITY.
  2. After clicking ACCESSIBILITY, a right-hand toolbar will appear allowing you to select the option FULL CHECK.
  3. When the scan is complete, Adobe will open a communication box with information on the left-hand side of the document. 
  4. Read through the identified accessibility concerns and follow the directions that Adobe provides in fixing these errors.
  5. When done fixing identified errors, SAVE the document.