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Accessibility Toolkit for Open Educational Resources (OER): PDFs

Accessibility guide for creating OER

A few key PDF accessibility points:

  • If you are using PDFs in your course you need to make sure they are accessible.
  • It 's easiest to produce an accessible document by creating it in WORD or PowerPoint or HTML and then saving it as a PDF.
  • However, sometimes you need to use a scan of an article or book chapter, and these scanned PDFs need to be made accessible.
  • First step: Set up your scanner to scan with OCR "Optical Character Recognition" on.
    • This means the page is scanned for individual characters and not as a singular image, and is therefore searchable.
  • Second step: After you scan your document run it through Adobe Acrobat Pro "Accessibility Checker" (instructions below) to fix accessibility issues.

The accessibility checker will check:

  • If your pdf is OCR.
  • If your pdf is “tagged” with hidden labels (“tags”)
    • Tags describe the structure of the document (what is a header, paragraph, table cell, etc.).
    • Screen readers can use these tags to convey the document’s information effectively to people with visual disabilities.
  • The "reading order" of the PDFs (this is especially important with documents of 2 or more columns per page).
  • If images and graphs have "alt-text" alternative text to describe them for users with screen readers.

As an aside, when you are scanning your documents, try and limit the amount of black bars along the edges, this will limit the amount of toner users who print out your scans will need to use.


Fixing PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Instructions: Using Accessible Checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

These are detailed, step by step instructions on how to check your PDF for accessibility issues.

(Want to PRINT these instructions? Here is an accessible WORD version of instructions to print)

FYI: all CUNY computers have Adobe Acrobat Pro DC installed.

Step 1:

Set Up "Action Wizard" & "Accessibility Checker"

  • Open Adobe Acrobat DC Pro
  • Click on “Tools” from 2nd TOP menu (next to “Home”)
  • In the search box type in “Action Wizard”
  • Click “Add” to add the “Action Wizard” to the right column's shortcut menu

Step 2:

Begin Check

  • Open up your PDF
  • Click on “Tools”
  • Click on “Action Wizard” located now on your right shortcut menu column.
    • If you don’t see the right column look for an arrow along the right hand side of your screen and click on arrow to open up your right hand column.
    • If for some reason you still don’t see an arrow or the right column just type in “Action Wizard” again in the search box in the top menu area to get to the “Action Wizard”.
  • Select “Make Accessible” from the right column's “Actions List”
  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Note: You will now see a series of pop-up boxes .

Step 3:


  • You will see a box which allows you to "tag” your document with some information.
  • Tag your PDF with "Title”, “Author”, “Subject” and “Keywords”.
  • To edit information you’ll need to uncheck the “Leave As Is” box.

Step 4:

Recognize Text and General Settings

  • Select “Document Language”
  • Select “Output” type:
    • Searchable Image: Ensures that text is searchable and selectable. This option keeps the original image, deskews it as needed, and places an invisible text layer over it.
    • Searchable Image (exact): Ensures that text is searchable and selectable. This option keeps the original image and places an invisible text layer over it. Recommended for cases requiring maximum fidelity to the original image.
    • Editable Text and Images: Synthesizes a new custom font that closely approximates the original, and preserves the page background using a low-resolution copy.

Step 5:

Is PDF a Fillable Form?

  • Select whether PDF is an online “fillable” form. Select “Yes, Detect Form Fields” or “No, Skip this Step”.

Step 6:

Reading Language

  • Set “Reading Language”

Step 7:

Figure/Image Detection

  • "OK” the detection of all figures and display any figures missing ALT-TEXT (alternative text)
  • If NO images are found you’ll get a pop-up box telling you nothing was found

Step 8: Set Alternative Text (Alt-text)

  • If there are images or figures missing “Alt-Text” this pop-up box will appear
  • Type in the “Alt-Text” for each image in this field.
  • Make sure to put a period at the end of your alt-text.
  • You also have the option to select “Decorative Figure” if the image is only decorative.
  • Need Help figuring out what is good alt-text for your images, check out this video "Composing Meaningful Alternative Text"
  • NOTE:
    Sometimes it is not easy to tell what images the automated system is asking about so it may be best to hit the “Save & Close” button here and check/fix image alt-text issues from the “Accessibility Report” where it is easier to see the images since they are highlighted. (See section III)

Step 9:

Select the Options you want the Accessibility Checker to check

  • Select or Deselect what accessibility items you want to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to check.
  • An accessibility report will appear on the left hand column, listing any issues detected.

Step 10:

Understanding the Accessibility Report and fixing issues

  • Your accessibility report will appear on the left hand column
  • Any item with an issue will be listed in BOLD and the number of issues will be noted in parenthesis
  • The report displays statuses for each rule check:
    • Passed: The item is accessible.
    • Skipped by User: Rule not checked, user choose to skip rule in Accessibility Checker Options dialog box.
    • Needs Manual Check: Full Check feature couldn't check item automatically. Verify the item manually.
    • Failed: The item didn't pass the accessibility check.
  • Failed Items:
    • Right click on any item which says “Failed”
    • Select “Fix”, “Skip Rule” or “Explain”
    • If you choose “Fix” the system will fix items it can automatically
    • For other items a pop-up box may appear which will allow you to fix items.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services PDF Instructions:

VIDEO: Making a PDF accessible with Acrobat Pro DC

Attribution: [lirpapierson] (2016, Jan. 24) Making a PDF accessible with Acrobat Pro DC [Video File]. Retrieved from

VIDEO: Webinar: Creating Accessible PDFs

Attribution: [Library Publishing Coalition] (2017, Dec 13) LPC Webinar: Creating Accessible PDFs [Video File]. Retrieved from