Skip to main content

Accessible PDFs



Portable document format (PDF) is one of the most common file formats for documents on the web. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most difficult for screen reader users to access. In addition, they can be extremely difficult to make accessible. If you're primarily using the PDF format to protect your document, please note that:

  1. PDFs can be easily exported to MS Word format in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. You can restrict editing (password protect) your Word docs in both the Windows and Mac desktop versions.

If you must use the PDF format, follow the instructions below to create, test, and repair accessible PDFs.

Create an accessible PDF from scratch.

If you are creating a document from scratch, use MS Word (or PowerPoint for a slide deck). Then follow the instructions below.

Step 1: Acquire the correct versions of Acrobat and MS Office.

Is there an Acrobat tab on your MS Word or PowerPoint toolbar?

Acrobat tab in MS Word toolbar
MS Word

Acrobat tab on the PowerPoint toolbar

Before you begin, make sure you have Acrobat tab for the Adobe Acrobat PDF maker. If not, acquire or upgrade to Adobe Acrobat DC or 2017 (not Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Standard) and to (at least) Microsoft Office 2016.

How to acquire or upgrade this software:

  1. If your computer has an ASU faculty or staff image, you may be able to download/upgrade both Office and Acrobat using the ASU Self Service app.
  2. If you don't have the ASU Self Service app installed, visit myASU > My Apps and follow the download instructions.
  3. If neither of these work, contact your department's Deskside Support.


Step 2: Create an accessible MS Word or PowerPoint document.

Follow the instructions in the "MS Word Files" or "PowerPoint" articles to make an accessible document or slide deck.

Step 3: Use Acrobat PDF maker to create an accessible PDF.

When your MS Word or PowerPoint document is ready, use the Acrobat PDF maker to create a PDF. Make sure to select the Acrobat tab, then "Create PDF." (Do not use "Print to PDF" or "Save As" PDF to create PDFs because they strip the hidden tags and alt text you added and will make the document inaccessible.)

Adobe Acrobat PDF Maker in MS Word
Adobe Acrobat PDF Maker in MS PowerPoint


Check if an existing PDF is accessible.

Make sure you are using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC or 2017 (not Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Standard).

  1. In Adobe Acrobat, find the Accessibility tools under the Tools tab. Click "Add." The Accessibility tools now will be available in the right-hand sidebar.
    Add the Accessibility tools to Adobe Acrobat
  2. Open the PDF file in Acrobat. From the right-hand sidebar, select Accessibility, then choose Accessibility Check. In the popup window, click the Start Checking button.
  3. The results will open in a new left-hand Accessibility Checker pane. Sections that are labeled with bold text have one or more issues. Expand and collapse the sections to view errors. Right click on any item and select Explain to learn more.
    Get more information from the Explain option
  4. If the PDF has issues, follow the instructions in "Fix inaccessible PDFs," below.


Fix an existing inaccessible PDF.

Instructions if the PDF is text-based.

The easiest way to fix an inaccessible text-based PDF is to make the corrections in MS Word or PowerPoint.

Note: If you don't have access to the original Word or PowerPoint document, export the PDF as a Word or PowerPoint file:

  1. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC or 2017.
  2. Next, select File > Export To > Microsoft Word > Word Document (or File > Export To > Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation) to export the file.


  1. Open the foriginal Word or PowerPoint document in MS Word or PowerPoint, and correct any issues by following the instructions in the "MS Word Files" or "PowerPoint" articles.
  2. Next, follow the instructions for using Acrobat PDF maker to create an accessible PDF.

For more complex documents, refer to:


Instructions if the PDF is image-based (scanned).

If you're working with a scanned image of text, you will need to either (i) acquire a text-based version or (ii) convert the scanned image into actual text.

i. Acquire a text-based version.

If your PDF is of a journal article, search for the article using Library One Search and download the full-text PDF. These PDFs are often text-based, which are easier to make fully accessible than image-based PDFs. Next, follow the instructions in step #2 (above), "Check if existing PDFs are accessible."


ii. Convert using Adobe's Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.

If you only have access to the scanned image-based PDF, use the OCR software in Acrobat to convert the scanned document to a text-based document.

  1. Convert scanned PDFs to editable text using the automatic OCR software in Acrobat:
    1. Open a PDF file containing a scanned image in Acrobat.
    2. Click on the Edit PDF tool in the right pane. Acrobat automatically applies optical character recognition (OCR) to your document and converts it to a fully editable copy of your PDF.
    3. Click the text element you wish to edit and start typing. New text matches the look of the original fonts in your scanned image.
    4. Choose File > Save As and save as an MS Word document.

    Learn more about editing scanned documents

    (From Adobe.)
  2. Next, edit the document in MS Word (see "MS Word Files.").
  3. Then re-save the document as a PDF (see step #1 above).


Alternative: Paid PDF repair services

Good PDF repair firms include CommonLook, Equidox and SensusAccess. Typically, remediation of regular PDFs ranges from $8-$15 per page depending on their complexity. PDF forms and scanned pages can be as much as $50 to $100 or more per page, depending on their quality and how extensive they are.


Resources: Career EDGE courses

ASU Career EDGE offers two LinkedIn courses free to ASU affiliates. For anyone who regularly works with PDFs, we recommend taking these self-enrolled, self-paced courses:

Note: You must be logged into Career Edge before these links will take you directly to the course page.