Lesson 3.3: Creating Accessible PDFs

Just as with Microsoft Word documents and Google Docs, Portable Document Format (PDF) documents should incorporate the simple ways to design accessibly; however, you need to take some extra steps to ensure that your PDFs can be read by everyone. In particular, you will want to make sure that:

  • The text of the PDF is readable
  • The PDF is tagged
  • The PDF has a title and designated language

Readable Text

In reference to PDF documents, the term “readable text” applies to text that can be read by a machine, such as a computer or assistive technology. Non-readable text is one of the most significant problems with many PDFs. If you have ever needed to read a PDF of a scanned book, you have probably encountered this problem, even if you do not know it. Scanned PDFs are images rather than readable text, and you might notice that you cannot highlight and copy the text. Nonetheless, if it was scanned at high resolution, Adobe Acrobat can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert the document with images of text into a document with readable text.


In a PDF, tagging refers to meta-information or labels behind the scene, which are used to identify parts of a PDF and make it easier to navigate. For instance, when you designate a heading in a Word document and save it as a PDF, the PDF has a tag that indicates the heading. Essentially, tagging is the way that PDFs organize information in a document.

Designating a Title and Language

In a PDF, the title property helps assistive technology users know what they are reading without having to read through the content, similar to the official title of a webpage, and the language property indicates how assistive technology should interpret the characters. Though these may seem like simple designations, they serve an essential purpose in establishing accessibility.

Making a PDF Accessible with Adobe Acrobat DC

To solve the issue of non-readable text, you need to use Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC or other PDF file remediating software.  Note: NC State employees can download Adobe Acrobat DC from the NC State Software Licensing website. If you are not an NC State employee, ask your information technology resource about this or other PDF remediation software (it is likely available to you).

To convert a document with non-readable text into a document with readable text, following these steps:

  • Scan your document with at least 600 dpi on your copier or scanner
    • You may have to change the scan settings to ensure that your scan has high resolution
  • Install Adobe Acrobat and open the program
  • Select the Home tab and use the My Computer option to select and open your document
  • Navigate to the Tools tab and select Accessibility
  • Run a full scan and use the report to correct any accessibility errors
    • Note that the full check will address readable text, tagging, and other accessibility issues that might be present

To see Adobe’s Accessibility Checker in action, watch the following video:

Google Doc: Creating an Accessible Scanned PDF Video Transcript

Lesson 3 Assignments

Please complete the Lesson 3 Self-Check as well as contribute to the Lesson 3 Forum (both available in Moodle).

Additional Resources

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