Create Accessible PDFs from Microsoft Word Documents: The Basics

Adobe Acrobat Pro (not Acrobat Reader) for Windows

If at all possible, create a document that is not a PDF. Making a web page accessible to people with disabilities is far easier than making a PDF accessible. Microsoft Word documents are easier to make accessible than PDFs.

PDFs are found everywhere. They are Portable Document Format files, which means just about any computer can open them. Many people link to PDFs on a website, and many times PDFs have accessibility issues. If you really need to create a PDF, there are ways to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. On this page there are some basic steps to make a PDF from a Word document accessible, but for complete information consult the Adobe website.

Start With An Accessible Word Document

First, create an accessible Word document. Some accessibility will carry over from Word to PDF. Ensure that your Word document is accessible. What NOT to do: Don't go to File > Print and then choose Adobe PDF as the printer. This will not pass any accessibility information on to the PDF file. The best way to make an accessible PDF from a Word document is to use the Acrobat ribbon that is installed when you install Acrobat Pro. Choose the Acrobat tab, then Create PDF.

Acrobat ribbon in Word with Create PDF highlighted

In the following dialog box, select the Options button:

option button for saving as a pdf

Make sure the box is checked for Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF:

Option: Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF

Select OK, then Save.

Make your PDF Accessible in Adobe Acrobat Pro

These actions can be performed on any PDF.
Open your document in Acrobat Pro.
Under the Tools shortcut list (right sidebar), choose Accessibility. 

Adobe toolbar with Accessibility highlighted

If you don't see Accessibility in the tool column, go to the Tools tab at the top left and choose Accessibility.

Choose Accessibility Check:

Accessibility checker in Acrobat Pro

 Choose Start Checking:

Accessibility Checker Options

On the left, you will find the Accessibility Checker with issues in bold. You may need to expand some items to find all the issues.

Accessibility sidebar with issues

The red circles with white Xs are issues that need to be fixed. Right click on it and choose Fix if possible. Otherwise, choose Explain.

The green checkmarks mean there are no issues with that item.

The question marks indicate that you need to do a manual check of the issue in question- it cannot be checked for accessibility automatically. In this instance the first manual check needed is Logical Reading Order.

Check Logical Reading Order

On the left sidebar in Acrobat Pro, choose the Tags icon. (If you don't see the Tags icon, select the View menu and under Show/hide > Navigation Panes, select Tags).

Tags icon

Expand the Tags tree

Tags tree expanded

Select the Options icon and ensure "Highlight Content" is selected.

Highlight content in main document window

Select each tag in the panel and make sure the tag order matches the order in the main document window. When you select a tag on the left, the item in the main document window to the right will be highlighted. Select the first tag in your list and ensure it matches the first item in your document. Using your down arrow, move through the list of Tags while seeing if the highlighted elements follow the logical reading order of the document. If the tags don't match the logical reading order, you can drag the tags around in the panel on the left.

Color Contrast

The other “Manual check” in this example that is needed is Color Contrast. If you have black text on a white background your color contrast is good, and you can mark that item as “Passed”. If you want to use another high contrast color combination:

  1. Choose Edit > Preferences (Windows) or Acrobat: Preferences (Mac OS).
  2. Click Accessibility.
  3. Select Replace Document Colors, and then select Use High-Contrast Colors. Choose the color combination that you want from the drop-down list, and then click OK.

High contrast colors for accessibility

Again, for complete information consult the Adobe website.

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