In order to ensure that documents are ultimately accessible, content authors must utilize the formatting and layout options within Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat Pro that support structural markup. This structural markup ensures that assistive technology software such as screen readers can correctly discern and interpret the structure of the document. Screen readers are commonly used by blind and low vision individuals.
In general, properly designed HTML is the most accessible format. PDF files are the most difficult to make accessible. It is recommended to use or link to PDF only when you cannot use HTML or Office files. The minimum requirements for a PDF document to be accessible is for it to be searchable text and “tagged” with hidden labels (“tags”) that describe the structure of the document so that it reads in the correct order with a screen reader.
Keep this in mind if you must convert a document to a PDF:
- Prep the Word document first so that it is accessible using the guides below.
- Then, if needed, convert it to a PDF.
- If a document needs significant remediation, it is generally easier to remediate the source file within Word than to work with the PDF.
- PDF remediation requires Adobe Acrobat Pro, not Acrobat Reader.
Detailed instructions are available below, or download a Microsoft Word document with directions and illustrative screen shots.
Note: Microsoft Word 2011 for the Mac cannot produce a fully accessible PDF. A PDF made from Microsoft Word for the Mac does not retain the structure tags (headings, lists, table headers, etc.) from the original document. The most recent update to Word 2016 for Mac finally allows to export documents as tagged PDF.