How to avoid common PDF Accessibility Mistakes

Supriti Tripathy

20th May'21

Before we delve deep into the topic and consider the PDF Accessibility mistakes, let us first understand the meaning of PDF Accessibility. We all know that a document once ready to be published in a readable form is converted into a PDF version. PDF stands for Portable Document Format. Mostly any text document, image, form, a webpage that is coded in PDF gives the right view and the format is commonly used to exchange e-documents.

PDF Accessibility feature of ADOBE makes sure that the PDF thus created, is easily accessible to any kind of user. Users with hearing, vision, mobility, and cognitive disabilities can also assess the PDF easily and use it for further process. We must understand the key features of accessibility.




What contributes to ease of accessibility?


1. The document must be comprehensible. In other terms, the user must be able to perceive the contents using their senses. For that, the document should be in readable text form, color contrast must be there for different items, use of alternative text should be proper for images and fields and the description or instructions should be apt and not just relate to one sensory area. Recognition of the contents of the document is mandatory.

2. The document must be functional. The use of links, lists, tables, headings must be appropriate to help users navigate through the document easily. It must be clear.

3. The document must be understandable and must use simple language.


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Here we must note that despite all techniques, we still make common PDF errors. Let us look at some of these common PDF Accessibility errors and ways to address them.




Common PDF Accessibility Mistakes and ways to avoid them


1. Relevant Content

The content must add value and not be vague. Sometimes the headings are unclear and unnecessary information is tagged along. We need to bring in clear information following proper structure and simple words. The idea is to cater to multiple users with special abilities. Embed fonts in the beginning to avoid corruption of your document.


Here are a few tips for accessibility in MS Word and MS Powerpoint documents.


MS Word:

  • Clear language is a must.
  • Use of tables, charts, and graphs for better plotting and ease of understanding.
  • Use of built-in styles for paragraphs, headings, etc to structure the document well.
  • Use of descriptive text for graphics or tables so that the screen reader translates the content easily.
  • Make sure to do a check using the accessibility checker at the end.



MS Powerpoint:

  • Use built-in templates to create clear readable slides.
  • For images, group them to make one image and add descriptive text.
  • Structure your notes with appropriate styles to print and present.
  • Make sure to do a check using the accessibility checker at the end.


2. Create a proper structure of your document. Use the heading feature instead of making manual edits. Also, it allows the navigation in the document properly without any hassle.


3. While tagging content, they may seem to disappear. It happens on the selection of the wrong text. They mostly get hidden and on searching reappear again. Rearrange them in the control panel to address the issue.


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4. Sometimes it is essential to re-create links in the PDF even if they are created in the original document. The Link OBJR tag must be there for all links for the document to be compliant.


5. While running the Adobe Auto Tag tool remember to save an extra copy of the document as your document may get corrupted at instances.


6. Color contrast is very important for the colorblind audience and ones with lower vision. Make use of it as and when you start working on the document. There are specific standards for contrast. Make sure to check that to make your document compliant.


7. As already specified above, use alternative text for images, tables, graphs, charts, etc so that the screen reader can be relied on to read out the relevant description of the figures. However, if an image has no description, it can be tagged as “background” in the PDF for the screen reader to skip it.


8. The language of the documents and other properties must be set using the Language options on the left corner of the document in the final PDF. Your content must be tagged in the final PDF so that the screen reader assesses it without skipping it.


9. Adobe allows you to set your reading order for different headings, files, or types of content. This is mostly the user’s requirement and also can be done in the original document.


As we head towards creating accessible documents, we must keep it in mind while starting with the original documents before the PDF conversion. A check on this stage reduces any error in the subsequent stages. During the conversion stage, Adobe provides special accessibility tools so that any error can be rectified here. The PDF editing software has a tag tree that structures the contents and presents them in a hierarchical order. It is best for navigation, the usability of the document, and better understanding.





PDF Accessibility Tools

Here is a list of some famous tools used by Adobe for PDF Accessibility


Adobe Acrobat Pro:

Just as there was an accessibility checker in Word and Powerpoint, it is also there in PDF which creates a report post the document scan. The Acrobat Pro is to edit PDF documents to make them more clear and approachable. However, also employ manual edits to remove any scope of error.


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Paciello Color Contrast Analyser:

This tool helps resolve any design-related issue in the document. It also gives information about several colorblind conditions. The Analyser provides beautiful features to check color contrast.


PDF Accessibility Checker 2.0:

A free tool, helps you to edit your PDF Final document and structures your errors categorically so that you can address the issue conveniently. Working as an accessibility checker, it also checks the reading order of the document.




The given information about the proper presentation and structure of your final PDF makes it more accessible to all types of users. Avoid the common PDF accessibility errors using the above techniques and tools so that you present the most approachable document that is corrupt-free and easily comprehensive.



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A believer of good things and pursuer of diverse avocation, she is a fiction lover and a simple writer. Supriti has a number of professions to her list and she feels challenges are the only answers to failures.


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