The same accessibility laws that are applied to the web, also apply to PDFs. Any website that links to PDFs , is required to make sure that the PDFs are accessible for screen reader users, but what makes a PDF accessible?

The first thing to understand is that when a PDF is opened via the web browser, it is by default loaded in the browser itself. However, most web browsers lack the ability to expose the semantics of PDFs to the screen reader making it unusable to the end-user. The PDF first needs to be downloaded and opened locally in Adobe Acrobat Reader which allows for the PDF to be accessed by the screen reader.

After the screen reader user goes through the steps above, this is when they finally find out if the PDF they clicked on is properly formatted for accessibility or not. More often than not, the PDF is not properly formatted making it impossible for a screen reader user to access the information on the PDF.

How Do You Format a PDF so it is Accessible?

The process of formatting a PDF to be accessible is not an easy one. First and foremost, you need to use Adobe Acrobat Pro which offers auto-tagging, but even the auto-tagging is lacking proper formatting of the PDF. To ensure that your PDFs are completely accessible and compliant, the process must be done manually, and the process is quite tedious and includes tagging such things as:

  • Proper Heading Structures

  • Proper Navigation

  • Columns

  • Lists

  • Form Fields

  • Tables

  • Tool Tips

  • Alt Texts and more.

When generating your PDF, make sure that you enable the following options or similar depending on the version.

  1. enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF

  2. document structure tags for accessibility

Usually, you will only have to enable these options once and they will remain active going forward.

Here is an example of an accessible PDF and an example of an inaccessible PDF so you see the difference yourself:

Inaccessible PDF

Accessible PDF

UserWay does offer manual PDF remediation services as well. You can read more HERE.

If you have any questions, you can reach our support team at

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