PDFs and Alternative Document Formats

PDFs can be a convenient way to deliver print documents online, but they remain a challenge to make accessible. As a result you should avoid or minimize using PDF files as a sole source of online information.

Best Practices

To make PDFs more accessible, consider these recommendations:

  • Text-based information: In many cases the information in the PDFs can be converted to HTML content.
  • Alternative formats: Consider posting the file in additional formats, such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. If you choose to use Microsoft Word, here a few quick tips from Media Access Australia:
    • Use .docx
    • Use headings 1-6
    • Create alt text: Right click the image you want, and select ‘Alt Text.’
    • Use the “Check Accessibility” option: You can find this in Microsoft Word under File > Info > Check Issues > Check Accessibility.
  • If a PDF is mandated: Generate a “tagged” PDF from a document source whenever possible. The specific method of doing so will vary on the original file format and the operating system. If you cannot generate an accessible PDF, use the repair tools in Adobe Acrobat to ensure accessibility.
  • Link language: Alert users when a link goes to a PDF file, e.g. “Meeting Minutes (PDF)”.
  • Scanning: If possible, scan material with an OCR (optical character recognition) scanner, which converts a scanned image of text to an actual text file, rather than a series of inaccessible images.

Tools & Resources

Here are some resources if you want to repair PDFs to be accessible to all users.

Here are some resources for creating accessible Word documents.

Here are some PDF authoring tools that provide accessibility support and create tagged PDFs.

  • Adobe Acrobat’s PDFMaker
  • Adobe FrameMaker
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Adobe LiveCycle Designer
  • LibreOffice
  • Lotus Symphony Documents
  • Microsoft® Word
  • OpenOffice.org Writer
  • CommonLook Office for Microsoft Office from Netcentric Technologies
  • Xenos Axess™ for Accessible Statements
  • WordPerfect® Office
  • Microsoft Office 10