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Communications and Public Affairs

PDF Guidelines

Creating and having accessible documents is essential to every website. Use the following tips to design and create documents that support greater accessibility.

Creating Accessible PDFs

Use Headings

Headings should form an outline of the page content. Clear, straightforward headings are best because people using screen readers will rely on them heavily to navigate and understand the document. Use the built-in heading feature provided by the software you are using to create headings and subheadings.

Use Lists

Any content organized as a list should be created using the unordered list (bullets) or ordered list (numeric) option provided by the software you are using. Doing this helps screen readers better understand how the content is organized.

Add Alternative Text for Images

Alternative (alt) text — required for all images — describes an image it in words for someone who is blind or visually impaired. Any information a sighted person can gain from an image should be communicated in the alt text field.

If an image is decorative and contains no informative content, it can be hidden from screen readers. Each application has a different way to make decorative images skippable:

Identify the Document’s Language

To ensure that screen readers will read a document using the appropriate language profile (English, Spanish etc.), the language of the document must be set. Most software provides a way to do this. When saving from Word or InDesign to a PDF use this guide: Set the Document Language.

Use Tables Correctly

Tables are great for communicating certain types of information but should never be used to control layout. To make tables accessible to screen reader users, use the table feature provided by the software you are using, and identify column and row headers by setting them as such. Keep your tables as simple as possible to ensure screen readers will be able to read them successfully.

Make Text Easy to Read

If your document has a low level of contrast between the color of the text and the color of the background, people with low vision or color blindness will have a hard time reading it. Look for text in your document that’s hard to read or distinguish from its background. Standing back from the computer a foot or so can help. Can you still read the text from farther away? If not, it’s likely the contrast is too low, and you’ll need to pick a different text color, background color or both.

Make Fillable Forms Accessible

This guide explains how to make fillable PDF forms accessible using Adobe Acrobat Pro: Create interactive forms that can be used by anyone, ensuring privacy and independence for all.

Scanned PDFs

Sometimes it is necessary to scan a document or page of a book and distribute it as PDF, but scanned PDFs are impossible to read with screen readers if they aren’t created correctly.

Use this guide to create accessible scanned PDFs: Creating and Fixing Scanned PDFs with Adobe Acrobat

Saving and Exporting PDFs

Check Accessibility Before Uploading to CMS

Always check the accessibility of your document before uploading it to your site. Many applications provide a way to do this:

Exporting PDFs from Microsoft Office

If you’re exporting a PDF from Microsoft Office, follow this guide to ensure your file remains accessible: Creating Accessible PDFs