Accessible PDF guidelines

If you post a PDF to the ASU web (including ASU websites, Canvas courses, social media, etc.) intended for students, employees or the public, you must ensure the document is accessible to people with disabilities.

How to Make a PDF Accessible 

Answer a few questions about the PDF you're working on, and we'll walk you through the steps to make it accessible.

Are you creating a new PDF or working with an existing PDF?
Are you making a new PDF of a created document (e.g., MS Word or PowerPoint) or of a published source (e.g., a book or journal)?

Create a new accessible PDF from MS Word or PowerPoint

These instructions explain how to create a new PDF from a created document like an MS Word .docx or a PowerPoint file.

Step 1: Start with accessible base documents

The most important step in creating an accessible PDF is to start with an accessible base file:

For other file types, search for instructions to make the file accessible from within the original software.

Step 2: Save the file as a PDF

The final step is to save the file as an accessible PDF. Please follow these steps, which work with the latest versions of Windows and Mac MS Office and Office 365 Online.

In Windows

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the Save as type dropdown:

Screenshot of Windows Word Save As pane

In Mac

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the File Format dropdown. Make sure the "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" option is checked.

Screenshot of Mac Word Save As pane

In MS Office 365 Online

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "Download as PDF":

Screenshot of MS Office 365 save as pane

Congratulations! You're done!

PDFs of published source material

If you want to embed material from a published source (e.g., a book chapter or journal article) in a Canvas course, add the item to your ASU Library Resource Organizer in Canvas. (If you need this material for a course taught outside of Canvas, submit a Resource Organizer course request.)

The ASU Library will try to license the content. Depending on the copyright, they'll provide access to a deep link to an electronic or PDF version of the item that you can use on any Canvas page, assignment, quiz, discussion post, etc.

Please note:

  • The sooner you submit a request the better. Requests are fulfilled on a first-come first-serve basis.
  • E-books may have a 3-user limit imposed by the publisher, please contact the ASU Library in advance if this limit is a concern and would impact the assignment of the book or if your course has over 200 students.
  • Requests for scans above the standard exception noted on our copyright page must be accompanied by a Fair Use checklist.

For more on how the ASU Library can help you provide accessible documents for your students and staff, see Course Resource Services.

 

Is the PDF accessible?

Congratulations! You're done!

How to check if a PDF is accessible

These instructions will show you how to check if a PDF is accessible.

  1. Make sure you are using Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC (not Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Standard).
  2. 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
  3. Open your PDF file in Acrobat. From the right-hand sidebar, select Accessibility, then choose Accessibility Check. In the popup window, click the Start Checking button.
  4. The results will open in a new left-hand Accessibility Checker pane. Sections that are labeled with bold text indicate 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
  5. If the PDF has issues, please go back to this question and select "No, the PDF is not accessible."
  6. If the PDF does not have issues, you are done! Congratulations!
Is this PDF of a created document (e.g., MS Word or PowerPoint) or of a published source (e.g., a book or journal)?

PDFs of published source material

If you want to embed material from a published source (e.g., a book chapter or journal article) in a Canvas course, add the item to your ASU Library Resource Organizer in Canvas. (If you need this material for a course taught outside of Canvas, submit a Resource Organizer course request.)

The ASU Library will try to license the content. Depending on the copyright, they'll provide access to a deep link to an electronic or PDF version of the item that you can use on any Canvas page, assignment, quiz, discussion post, etc.

Please note:

  • The sooner you submit a request the better. Requests are fulfilled on a first-come first-serve basis.
  • E-books may have a 3-user limit imposed by the publisher, please contact the ASU Library in advance if this limit is a concern and would impact the assignment of the book or if your course has over 200 students.
  • Requests for scans above the standard exception noted on our copyright page must be accompanied by a Fair Use checklist.

For more on how the ASU Library can help you provide accessible documents for your students and staff, see Course Resource Services.

 

Do you have access to the original file the PDF was made from?

If you have access to the original file

These instructions explain how to fix accessibility issues in an existing PDF when you have access to the original created document.

Step 1: Make base documents accessible

If you have access to an original Word or PowerPoint version of the PDF, you can fix any accessibility problems in MS Word or PowerPoint software, which is often easier than trying to work in Adobe Acrobat. See how to repair inaccessible files:

For other file types, search for instructions to make the file accessible from within the original software.

Step 2: Resave the file as a new PDF

The final step is to save the file as an accessible PDF. Please follow these steps, which work with the latest versions of Windows and Mac MS Office and Office 365 Online.

In Windows

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the Save as type dropdown:

Screenshot of Windows Word Save As pane

In Mac

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the File Format dropdown. Make sure the "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" option is checked.

Screenshot of Mac Word Save As pane

In MS Office 365 Online

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "Download as PDF":

Screenshot of MS Office 365 save as pane

Congratulations! You're done!

Is the PDF text-based or an image?

Test if a PDF is text-based or an image

These instructions will show you how to test if the PDF is text-based or an image.

Step 1: Open the PDF in Adobe Reader (Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC are not required.)

Step 2: Try to select some text.

  • If you can highlight selections of text, the file is text-based. 
    Highlighted text in Adobe Reader with an open formatting popup
     
  • If you can't highlight selections of text--if the whole content becomes highlighted when you select something on the page--the PDF is an image.

Step 3: Once you determine whether the PDF is text-based or an image, please go back and change your answer to this question.

 

Fix a text-based PDF without the original file

When you don't have access to the original file and the PDF is text-based, you can still try to make the document accessible by recreating the original file.

Step 1: Export the PDF as a Word or PowerPoint file.

  1. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC. (Request access to the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC, which is free to ASU faculty, staff and students.)
  2. Select File > Export To > Microsoft Word > Word Document (or alternatively, File > Export To > Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation) to export the file.

Step 2: Make the recreated document accessible.

Open the newly recreated (exported) document in MS Word or PowerPoint, and fix any accessibility problems in the file from within the MS Word or PowerPoint software, which is often easier than trying to work in Adobe Acrobat. See how to repair inaccessible files:

Step 3: Save the file as a new PDF

The final step is to save the file as an accessible PDF. Please follow these steps, which work with the latest versions of Windows and Mac MS Office and Office 365 Online.

In Windows

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the Save as type dropdown:

Screenshot of Windows Word Save As pane

In Mac

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the File Format dropdown. Make sure the "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" option is checked.

Screenshot of Mac Word Save As pane

In MS Office 365 Online

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "Download as PDF":

Screenshot of MS Office 365 save as pane

Congratulations! You're done!

Convert using Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

If you cannot find an original version of your image-based PDF,  use the OCR software in Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC to convert it to a text-based document, then remake the PDF.

Step 1: Convert the PDF to a text-based document with Acrobat Pro or DC

  1. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC. (Request access to the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC, which is free to ASU faculty, staff and students.)
  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. Note: It may be easier to edit later in Word or PowerPoint.
  4. Choose File > Save As and save as an MS Word or PowerPoint document.

Learn more about editing scanned documents

(From Adobe.)

Step 2: Make base documents accessible

Once you have a Word or PowerPoint version of the file, you can fix any accessibility problems in MS Word or PowerPoint software, which usually is easier than trying to work in Adobe Acrobat. See how to repair inaccessible files like:

Step 3: Save the file as a new PDF

The final step is to save the file as an accessible PDF. Please follow these steps, which work with the latest versions of Windows and Mac MS Office and Office 365 Online.

In Windows

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the Save as type dropdown:

Screenshot of Windows Word Save As pane

In Mac

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "PDF" from the File Format dropdown. Make sure the "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" option is checked.

Screenshot of Mac Word Save As pane

In MS Office 365 Online

From within Word or PowerPoint, choose File > Save As, then select "Download as PDF":

Screenshot of MS Office 365 save as pane

Congratulations! You're done!


If you cannot fix a PDF

If none of the above steps worked, in some circumstances you can reproduce the content in a second text-based version and publish it alongside the inaccessible PDF. Alternatively, if you have resources, consider hiring a PDF repair service to make the PDF accessible for you.

  • Publish a second text-based version of the PDF. If you can't fix a PDF, recreate the content and publish an accessible MS Word, PowerPoint, HTML, or plain-text file as an alternative alongside the PDF file. Use this solution only as a last resort and as infrequently as possible. Posting alternative versions of content can cause problems (e.g., the content in the two documents may become out of sync). In addition, separate but equal is not really equitable and should be avoided in all but the direst situations.
     
  • Paid PDF repair services. Good PDF repair firms include CommonLook, Equidox and SensusAccess. Typically, remediation of regular PDFs ranges from around $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 the quality and complexity.

 

Free training

Career EDGE courses

ASU Career EDGE offers two LinkedIn courses on making PDFs accessible that we highly recommend. Both are free to ASU affiliates. These are especially ideal for anyone who regularly works with PDFs:

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

Other recommended free courses

See more training courses.

More About PDFs

Adobe Acrobat PDF logo Portable document format (PDF) is one of the most common file formats for documents on the web but also one of the most difficult for screen reader users to access. Consider using a more accessible format, such as MS Word or PowerPoint.

If you're using PDFs to protect your document, note that:

  1. PDFs are not especially secure and are easily exported to MS Word format from Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Password protecting your Word docs may be a more secure option.

If you must use PDFs, the Accessible PDF Guide can help you create, test and repair PDFs.

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