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Accessibility Workshop for Brooklyn College: Create Accessible PDFs

General PDF accessibility tips

  • If you are using PDFs on your site you need to make sure they are accessible.
  • If you are able, it ‘s easiest to produce an accessible document by creating it in WORD or PowerPoint or HTML and then saving it as a PDF.
  • Many OERs contain items which need to be scanned and saved as a PDF.  If you must scan materials (like book chapters) you need to make sure they are accessible. Follow these basic steps:
  • 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 an image. Individual characters are searchable, unlike images of text.
    • This is not 100% successful, especially for handwritten documents.
  • Second step: After you scan your document run it through Adobe Acrobat Pro “Accessibility Checker” (instructions below) to fix accessibility issues.
  • Third step: For pdf scans which themselves cannot be made accessible,  provide a WORD transcript of scanned document.

Screen Reader Demonstration of PDFs


Here are some videos showing various pdf accessibility issues.  Listen to how a screen reader reads aloud these scanned pdf articles and chapters.

Example of a pdf scanned as an image

  • This book chapter is inaccessible to students using screen readers because it was scanned as an image.
  • OCR (Optical Character Recognition) was not used while scanning.
  • This causes a major accessibility issue.
  • Always scan with OCR

Attribution: [msdmena1] (2014, Sept. 2) Inaccessible pdf Retrieved from

Example of multi-column article pdf without proper reading order

  • What about a PDF with multiple columns, what does that sound like to a screen reader?
  • This 2 columns article has not had its reading order set, so the screen reader jumps from column to column, reading the text incorrectly.
  • If this pdf had been properly tagged and the reading order set, the screen reader would know the correct reading order.

Attribution: [NC State IT Accessibility] (2013, Oct.16) Untagged PDF Being Read by a Screen Reader [Video File]. Retrieved from

Comparison of an inaccessible and accessible pdf scan

The excerpt being read is from Andrea Smith's (2016) Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy - Rethinking Women of Color Organizing. In Violence, I.N.C I.T.E .W.C.A. (pp. 66-73) Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology. Durham: Duke University Press.

Attribution: [Lauren Alcorn] (2016, Apr.5 ) Example of Using a Screen Reader with an Accessible PDF [Video File]. Retrieved from

Step-by-step Instructions on Adobe Acrobat Pro DC Accessibility Checker

Here are step by step instructions on how to run Adobe Acrobat Pro DC “Accessibility Checker”

Step 1: Set-Up

  • 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: Description

  • 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.
  • 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: 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.

Attribution: [Adam Barragato] (2017, Nov 18) :Touch up Reading Order [Video file]