We all know that PDF is de facto an electronic document format of choice when it comes to high-volume customer interaction. Most of us receive our bills, notices, statements and other documents in PDF format and there are strong indications that PDF is not going away anytime soon.

Why PDF?

  • PDF is a reliable visual representation of a document that can`t be changed. It is an electronic equivalent of a hardcopy.
  • It is compatible with all operation systems and looks the same regardless of the hardware and application software it was created in.
  • PDF is an official open standard since 2008 (ISO 32000-1).
  • PDF is commonly adopted by big companies and government agencies. They rely heavily on producing high volume of personalized documents like bills, or using fillable PDF forms for holiday request, surveys, online registrations etc.

Importance of accessibility

Recently, there has been a lot of debate and criticising of Internet accessibility and customer communication methods. Studies suggest that there are around 285 million people around the world suffering from vision impairments, ranging from low vision to blindness.

Visual impairment statistics






Source: http://blogs.actuate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/visualimpairmentstats.png

These individuals, until recently, had to rely on external help from family members, friends and caretakers to manage their affairs online. Under pressure from equal rights organisations and advocacy groups there has been a massive push from banks, retailers, telecommunication companies, government agencies and other service providers to focus on Internet and electronic content accessibility.

It is impossible to ignore that these individuals are potential customers, consumers and part of the global workforce. Like everyone else they live in a digital age, which defines how we live, work, communicate, shop and play. As people become more tech savvy it is only natural to move away from old standards like Braille in favour of new technologies. Organizations of all kinds and sizes are focused on their online presence to save money on excluding costly live customer service from their business models via self-service websites.

Best practices creating accessible PDF documents

Creating accessible documents it is important to keep in mind assistive technologies used by visually impaired individuals. The most common ones are – screen readers and text-to-speech software. In order to work properly these assistive means require clear structure and certain metadata inside the document.

Improve accessibility of PDF:

  • Create clear structure using headers and columns.
  • Avoid using alternative fonts or bolded typing for headers and paragraphs, instead apply styles like Heading 1.
  • Use tables and lists.
  • Use bookmarks for long documents.
  • Use internal and external links.
  • Non-text elements like figures and graphs.
  • Use contrasting colours.
  • Use tooltips for fillable forms.

Important elements of accessible PDF:

Reading order. Screen readers and text-to-speech software require logical structure to in order to understand in which order text is meant to be read. The order can be unclear if there us multi-column text, quotes in-between columns, sidebars, tables etc. Tagging different document elements and blocks of text can set the right order of reading the document.

Alt text for images. Non-text elements like images, graphs, charts, photos can`t be interpreted by screen readers. Alt text serves as an alternative for an image to give context and conveys it`s meaning to those unable to see it.

Alt text for links. It allows people using screen readers to hear alternative text rather than the whole URL link. For example, one will hear “About PDF Share Forms” instead of “ http://blog.pdfshareforms.com/about/”.

Navigation. A document should include useful means of navigation like table of contents, bookmarks, and internal links. That provides an easy way to browse through the document to find required information without reading the whole document.

Tooltips for form fields. Tooltip option in the General tab allows to enter text that will be announced by screen readers. It can be used to give information about form fields or to provide instructions.

How to make an accessible PDF form


At a high level, the process of creating accessible PDFs consists of a few basic stages:

  1. Consider accessibility before you convert a document to PDF.
  2. As needed, add fillable form fields and descriptions, and set the tab order.
  3. Add other accessibility features to the PDF.
  4. Tag the PDF.
  5. Evaluate the PDF and repair tagging problems.

Step by step guide

This guide shows how to make an accessible PDF document using Adobe Acrobat Pro toolset.

  1. Choose Tools→ Action Wizard.

The Action Wizard toolset is displayed in the secondary toolbar.

A list of available actions is displayed under the Actions List in the right hand pane.

  1. From the Action List, click Make Accessible.

The right hand pane changes to display each task included in the Make Accessible action, as well as the instructions to execute the action.

  1. Select the files that you want to apply the Make Accessible action to. By default, the action runs on the document that’s currently open. Select Add Files to select additional files to run the action on.


"Make accessible" menu







Select Add Files to run the report on additional files or folders.

  1. Click
  2. Follow the prompts to complete Make Accessible

When Make Accessible action is completed Accessibility checker results are presented.

accessibility checker results
















The report displays one of the following statuses for each rule check:

Passed: The item is accessible.

Skipped By User: Rule was not checked because it wasn’t selected in the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box.

Needs Manual Check: The Full Check feature couldn’t check the item automatically. Verify the item manually.

Failed: The item didn’t pass the accessibility check.

Fix accessibility issues (Acrobat Pro DC)


To fix a failed check after running Full Check, right-click (Windows) or Ctrl-click (Mac OS) the item in the Accessibility Checker panel. Choose one of the following options from the context menu:


Acrobat either fixes the item automatically, or displays a dialog box prompting you to fix the item manually.

Skip Rule:

Deselects this option in the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box for future checks of this document, and changes the item status to Skipped.


Opens the online Help where you can get more details about the accessibility issue.

Check Again:

Runs the checker again on all items. Choose this option after modifying one or more items.

Show Report:

Displays a report with links to tips on how to repair failed checks.


Opens the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box, so you can select which checks are performed.

Fixing the most common problems of accessible PDF forms

One of the most common mistakes in converting regular PDF form into accessible PDF – missing tooltip descriptions for form fields.

In order to fix that go to ToolsPrepare form

Right click on a form field and choose properties.

Form field properties













Enter tooltip description that will be read by the screen reading software instead of the field name.

Tooltips for text field














Another important issue is reading order. In order to fix it go to ToolsAccessibility and choose Reading Order from the right hand side menu.

Reading order










Use Touch Up Reading Order tools to map the reading order the way it is meant to be read by the screen reading software.

For more information about PDF accessibility please refer to the official guide: https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/create-verify-pdf-accessibility.html




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