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How to create accessible PDF documents

Accessible PDFs, what are they and how do we create them? In this article we will answer these questions so that you can eliminate barriers on the web through the use of accessible documents.

The first thing you should take into account is that PDFs are accessible when their content is accessible to everyone, regardless of their disability status or the way such documents are used.

Generally speaking, the accessibility adjustments we make to PDFs are designed to eliminate the barriers often encountered by people who are visually impaired.

That is why many of the tasks you will perform will assume the use of screen readers. This doesn’t mean you should ignore other types of conditions such as hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities.

Also bear in mind that nowadays, PDFs are the most commonly used digital format when it comes to sharing documentation on the web.

That is why you will need to follow a series of steps that will serve as a guide every time you create accessible PDFs.

Remember that this will enable you to join other organizations on the path to regulatory compliance in matters pertaining to web accessibility.

This requires a minimum level of accessibility, such as that required under Royal Decree 1112/2018, the UNE-EN 301-549:2019 standard and W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1).

7 tips for accessible PDFs

First, let’s focus on the steps outlined in the Guide to Accessibility for PDF Documents provided by the Spanish Accessibility Observatory.

It is extremely important to follow this guideline, since it addresses all of the aspects involved in the creation of an accessible document.

  1. The document must be labelled correctly

    To ensure that screen readers will be able to correctly announce the content to users, it is important that you indicate internally what type of content can be found in each structural element.

    For example: whether it is to be labelled a header, a table, a list, a title, a footer, or another tag.
  2. Its reading order must be logical

    You need to make sure that the internal reading order corresponds to the content where the user is situated.

    This is achieved by providing certain indications that determine the correct reading order of the text.

    That is why documents must be correctly tagged, so that the different text blocks and elements on the PDF can be differentiated.
  3. Alternative text for images must be included

    Each image requires a descriptive text so that screen readers can convey the information from each image.

    Remember that for decorative images contained in the document we need to use an empty alt attribute.
  4. You need to indicate the language of the document

    You need to specify the language in which the document is written.

    This will enable screen readers to correctly read the content according to the language that is being used.
  5. Configure security appropriately

    You will need to ensure that your security settings do not in any way affect access to the information needed by screen readers.

    To do this, it is important to select an encryption and compatibility level that will protect the document whilst guaranteeing its accessibility.
  6. Links should be well-defined

    Generating useful and well-defined links will allow users to move freely and go directly to the section that interests them.

    In this sense, a text alternative is required for the link, which clearly announces where the user will be taken to.
  7. Ensuring good navigation within the document

    Offering users an optimal document structure that allows them to move within the document is very important.

    This will help them find what they are looking for without having to read the entire document.
some hands use a special computer keyboard for people with visual impairment

To learn more about the UNE-EN check points for PDF documents, click on this link and see point 3.1 of the Guide to Accessibility in PDF Documents provided by the Spanish Accessibility Observatory.

Tools for creating accessible PDF documents

If you follow these steps, you will be able to generate accessible documents that guarantee information for everyone.

Today, there are a number of tools available that will help you to evaluate and correct your documents.

One such tool is the one offered by Acrobat, which allows you to correct accessibility problems, as well as create accessible documents from scratch.

For more detailed technical information, see PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0 – W3C, which offers several techniques based on the web content accessibility guidelines 2.0.

Do you want your existing PDFs to be accessible?

You may already have a repository of PDF documents that need to be accessible, but it is impossible for you to review all the aspects as indicated above. We are aware of how laborious this task is for pre-existing documents.

If you want to start generating accessible PDF documents, contact us. We will prepare accessible templates for you and provide training for those who produce documents in your organization. We can make your PDFs fully accessible, and with inSuit, this is possible.

Remember that if you want to ensure full accessibility of your content and website, you can contact us. We will offer you web accessibility solutions that will help you meet your goals.