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Web Accessibility Center home page.

  • Web Accessibility Center

Accessibility and PDF Documents

Before You Choose PDF.

Should you publish your documents in PDF, HTML, or both? Is one better than the other? Before you decide to use PDF extensively in your site, read the comments of John Foliot, Web Accessibility Specialist from Web Accessibility Testing and Services. And, from the WAC, "Is PDF the Right Choice?" considers the difference between classroom and general distribution.

WAC Tutorials and Guides

  1. "PDF and the OSU Standards": what every OSU web designer or manager should know before posting a single link to a PDF file.
  2. "What is an Accessible PDF?": details the various levels of accessibility in PDF and the required and recommended elements for a fully accessible PDF.
  3. "Guidelines and Standards for Accessible PDF": a complete guide that explains the different levels of accessible PDF, minimum standards for an accessible PDF, and steps to creating an accessible PDF.
  4. "Identifying Links to PDF Files": uses good and bad examples to show how links should be correctly identified for simplest navigation by screen reader users.
  5. "Accessible PDF from MS Word 2003": step-by-step guide through preparing and converting your Word document to an accessible PDF using the Adobe Acrobat plug-in for Office.
  6. "Accessible PDF from Scanned Documents": step-by-step guide to scanning your documents, performing OCR using Acrobat Paper Capture, and editing your document to include accessible mark-up.
  7. "Accessible PDF from the Web ": step-by-step guide to converting web document to PDF. Covers both creating web documents for best conversion, as well as coverting documents and research found on the Web.
  8. "Checking Your PDF for Accessibility": walks through the steps in Acrobat Professional (v.6) for checking and editing documents for accessibility.

Additional Resources

  1. "How to Create Accessible Acrobat PDF Files" (WebAIM): a short summary of techniques.
  2. PDF Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 and 2.0 ( W3C Web Accessibility Initiative). W3C Internal Working Draft 13 September 2001. Summary: "In this PDF Techniques document we describe how to create accessible Adobe Portable Document Format as refered to in the PDF Reference Manual Second Edition, Version 1.3 (HTML Version) (PDF Version), and the Tagged PDF Document (HTML Version) Not available yet (PDF Version), which explains the changes between PDF 1.3 and 1.4 ." Online at:
  3. Training Video on PDF Accessibility from AccessIT [video] (requires Windows Media Player): "PDF Accessibility" a presentation by Terry Thompson, Technology Specialist with AccessIT, offers detailed help with evaluating PDF files for accessibility and creating accessible PDF using MS Word and Adobe Acrobat plug-ins. The National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education (AccessIT) at the University of Washington serves to increase the access of individuals with disabilities to information technology in educational institutions at all academic levels nationwide.

Resources from Microsoft.

Read about accessibility in Microsoft products and compatible assistive technology products. Microsoft's Accessibility Web site. Of particular note in this site:

Resources from Adobe.

Acrobat for Educators: Features free online video tutorials, tips, tricks, and extras, as well as a forum for discussiong Acrobat uses with other educators. All designed with a educators focus, using examples from research and the classroom. An excellent jumping off point for those who want to learn more features of Acrobat.

Access Adobe, a jumping-off point for information on the features and capabilities of Adobe products that enhance electronic document accessibility for people with disabilities such as blindness, low vision, and motor impairments. There are also links to resources that help people with disabilities work more effectively with Adobe software and aid authors in optimizing content for accessibility.

Self-paced Tutorials -- Adobe offers a variety of training materials for both students and those who wish to train others in creating accessible PDFs. The training covers:

  • Curriculum Guide: Using Acrobat to Make a PDF File Accessible [PDF]: learn to -- Set the Read-Out-Loud feature; Set different reading preferences; Change visual aspects of a PDF document; Reduce keyboard and mouse interaction; Verify the accessibility of a PDF document.
  • Training: Creating accessible forms with Adobe PDF Forms Access: Learn how to create accessible Adobe PDF Forms using Adobe PDF Forms Access, a component of the Acrobat Capture 3.0 Agent Pack that significantly reduces the time required to turn a fillable Adobe PDF form into an accessible form. Complete the course at your own pace.
  • Training: Authoring for accessibility and reflow: With this series of standalone training courses, you can learn how to create accessible documents using Adobe FrameMaker®, Adobe InDesign®, and Microsoft® Word, with Acrobat. Complete each course at your own pace by downloading a ZIP file containing instructions and exercises.
  • Movies/Streaming Training Videos (discusses Acrobat 5.0)

PDF Conversion Tools:

WAC NOTE: While the advantages to offering documents in both PDF and accessible HTML versions are clear, the WAC does not endorse or officially approve of any specific tool. Designers should carefully evaluate the results of these conversion tools to insure that an accessible and well-designed HTML document is produced.

Adobe PDF Conversion by Simple Form. To convert an Adobe® Portable Document Format (PDF) file to HTML, simply type a URL for an Adobe PDF document into this electronic form and select Get This Adobe PDF Document as HTML. The Adobe PDF document will be converted on-the-fly to HTML, and will be returned to you immediately in your browser application.

Eprint IV. Convert to and from PDF with ePrint - Convert ANY file format to and from over 140 document and image formats including searchable PDF, DOC, HTML, TXT, Multi-page TIFF, JPG, GIF, PNG and many more. Whether you want to convert to PDF or from PDF - With ePrint you can create your PDF files using MS Word or Notepad. Just create your documents, then you can simply click "print" and convert your file to PDF using ePrint!! [$99.00*].

goBCL Remote File Converter 1.3. Free PDF/HTML conversion tool that allows you to convert documents to either PDF or HTML directly from your computer. It handles DOC, RTF, XLS, PPT, TXT, and PDF formats. You can convert Word files to PDF complete with hyperlinks. Asian fonts are now supported. This tool allows you to submit an unlimited number of files to a powerful online file-processing engine for instant conversion. Within seconds, the PDF or HTML file will be zipped up and e-mailed back to you. goBCL Remote has options to save your default e-mail address for quick access and view your file upload history and your document conversion statistics. No registration required, and privacy is guaranteed.

ScanSoft PDF Converter. PDF Converter is the world's #1 selling solution for instantly turning PDF files into Microsoft Word documents and forms that you can easily edit - complete with text, columns, tables, and graphics.* PDF Converter 2 contains powerful new features that allow you to quickly convert proposals, contracts, letters and more into Microsoft Word documents for editing, saving valuable time and money. PDF Converter can even be used to extract charts and graphs from PDF files so they can be reused in Microsoft PowerPoint® and other applications with cut-and-paste ease! [$49.99-$99.00*].

SolidConverter. Convert PDF to Word easily! Recover and reuse your PDF content with Solid Converter PDF. Simply open your PDF file in Microsoft® Word. Then edit. Solid Converter PDF to Word delivers the content right to your fingertips. [$49.95*].

Discussion and Articles

Many experts still believe PDF cannot be made fully accessible to users of assistive technology. Included below is a selection of articles and guides exploring the advancements and barriers in the efforts toward making accessible PDF a wide-spread and user-friendly reality.

The Accessibility of Adobe™ Acrobat™Software for People with Disabilities. -- American Foundation for the Blind. 2004. Summary: "Adobe's suite of Acrobat™ software products enables users to create, format, and read Portable Document Format (PDF) files from a variety of applications. PDF files are an industry standard for sharing richly formatted documents. More than 20 million documents are available using this format on the World Wide Web, with more than two million on government web sites. Corporations and institutions, across industries, compose and disseminate everything from user manuals to annual reports to legal documents using the PDF file format. To assure the accessibility of Acrobat™ software for disabled users, Adobe Systems Incorporated engaged AccessWorld Solutions (AWS), the consulting arm of the American Foundation for the Blind. The purpose was to evaluate the accessibility features of Acrobat™ 6.0 and Adobe Reader™ 6.0 software products and provide recommendations for making PDF files more accessible to people with disabilities. This paper summarizes the results of that evaluation and discusses how the results contributed to improving the accessibility features of Acrobat™ 6.01 software." Online at:

Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Techniques. – WebAIM, Techniques and Concepts. Conclusions: "It's wonderful that Adobe has made it possible to make PDF files that are accessible to users of screen readers. Acrobat 6.0 takes a huge leap forward, by embedding a text-to-speech synthesizer in the Reader itself. Still, you can't count on users having the right combination of software and expertise to make use of the Reader's extra functionality. It's always a good idea to provide an HTML version in addition to the PDF, even if the PDF is created with accessibility in mind. Acrobat PDF files can be made directly accessible to users of the JAWS and Window Eyes screen readers, but no other screen reader yet supports the ability to read PDF files directly." Online at:

Adobe Tackles Software Accessibility Issues . - American Foundation for the Blind. 2004. Conclusion: "Despite the many improvements that have been made, Acrobat 6.0.1TM and PDF files are still not perfectly accessible. Some problems may never be totally resolved, since many PDF documents were created several years ago on previous versions of AcrobatTM that lacked accessibility features. However, Adobe is committed to resolving all outstanding accessibility issues that are technically possible to fix." Online at:

PDF format is still not fully accessible. – 2003 Monash Web Workshop Series, Monash University. Summary: "Although there have been significant improvements to the accessibility of PDF documents, they can only be accessed by blind users in a very limited set of conditions. As a result, whenever PDF documents are used on the web, they should always be supplemented by an accessible alternative (in HTML, RTF, or text format)." Online at:

PDF and Public Documents: A White Paper. -- American Foundation for the Blind. 25 April 2002. Conclusions: "While we applaud Adobe's efforts to make Portable Document Format (PDF) more accessible, the limitations of existing practices and technological capabilities available to end-users who are blind or otherwise print disabled render documents and forms in PDF inaccessible to many members of the public. This white paper explains the problems that surround the use of PDF documents and forms in light of the section 508 standards and draws the conclusion that alternative, accessible formats must always accompany PDF versions of information and data that are made available to the public." Online at:

Strategies for PDF Accessibility. – Duff Johnson, Planet PDF. 20 February 2003. Summary: "Adobe's Current Strategy (as described on enhance the PDF format with MSAA-aware capabilities (tags) that document developers may use to improve accessibility. This approach is rooted in the belief that accessibility is operationally defined as the ability to interact with the user's choice of screen reader software. Usability is not part of this definition." Online at: See also: Accessible PDF: A Strategic Review -- Online at: .

OSU Web Accessibility Center (WAC)
1760 Neil Ave 150 Pomerene Hall Columbus, Ohio 43210
Phone: (614) 292-1760 Fax: (614) 292-4190 E-mail:
For questions or problems with this site, including incompatibility with assistive technology, email the WAC Webmaster.



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