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Best Practices

Characteristics of Accessible PDF files include:

  • Searchable text
  • Interactive form fields
  • Other interactive features: buttons, hyperlinks, bookmarks
  • Document language set
  • Security that will not interfere with assistive technology
  • Document structure tags and proper reading order
  • Alternate text descriptions for images

Creating a new document or editing an existing document

When creating a new document, there are typically two pathways to accessibility:

1. Creating an accessible document from within a current PDF file
2. Generating an accessible PDF from another application (such as a word processor)

No matter how they are created, accessible PDF files have the following characteristics:

1. Searchable text (i.e. a PDF not saved as an image)
2. Interactive form fields and defined tab order (enabling users to use the Tab key to navigate within the document)
3. Navigational Aids (enabling users to navigate within the document using their keyboards)
  • Links
  • Bookmarks
  • Hyperlinks
  • Formatted Headings
4. Proper security settings that won’t interfere with a screen reader
5. Alternative Text descriptions for images and charts


  • Create high quality, high resolution scans of the original print material. If the original scan is blurry, contains underlining or writing in the text, OCR (optical character recognition) software may not be able to decipher the text, and the document will not be able to read aloud by assistive technology.
  • Some, though not all, PDFs downloaded from online databases, journals, or publisher content may already be in accessible format.
  • When creating a PDF, it is critical to utilize the built-in styles to create headings and paragraph text so that screen readers can easily navigate through the document. Headings created by using the font and bold buttons will not be recognized as headings by screen readers.
  • Avoid password protecting documents to enable access to screen reader devices.

Tools for Creating Accessible PDFs

The following OCR software provide powerful editing ability for all types of digital files and forms:

Additional Resources

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