PDF Accessibility

There are two common ways to create a PDF, either exporting a source file (like a PowerPoint presentation or a Word document to a PDF) or scanning a hard copy of a document to PDF.

You will find that you can save a lot of time and headache by using the originating program (PowerPoint, Word, etc.) to create a fully accessible document and then having that originating program create the fully accessible PDF for you

Read below to find tips on creating PDFs accessibly the first time around.

Step 1. Create the PDF

Exporting to PDF

Save as accessible PDF from Office for Windows 2016

  • Start with a well structured, accessible word document or presentation.
  • Click the File tab and select Save as. In the Save as type field, select PDF (*.pdf).
  • Enter a file name in the File name field.
  • Click on the Options button
  • On the Options window, under "Include non-printing information" make sure the Document structure tags for accessibility and Create bookmarks using Headings checkboxes are checked.
  • Under PDF options, make sure Bitmap text when fonts may not be embedded is NOT checked.
  • Click OK.
  • Click Save.This will tag all of the text formatting so page headings and lists are correctly interpreted by a screen reader.

Save as accessible PDF from Office for Mac 2016

Mac users, Word 2016 on a Mac can create an accessible PDF, but unfortunately previous Mac versions of MS Office cannot be converted to an accessible PDF. Please refer to: Ways to make an accessible PDF on a Mac (if you have an older version of MS Office). Or contact ITD software about getting a copy of MS Office 2016. 

  1. Start with a well structured, accessible word document or presentation.
  2. Click the File tab and select Save as. In the File Format field, select PDF (*.pdf).
  3. Enter a file name in the Save As field.
  4. Choose a location on your computer to save the PDF.
  5. Make sure to check the radio button labeled Best for electronic distribution and accessibility.screenshot of export to PDF from Word for Mac with PDF as the file format and Best for accessibility radio button checked
  6. Click Export.This will tag all of the text formatting so page headings and lists are correctly interpreted by a screen reader.

Scanning to PDF

You can scan to PDF from almost any scanning software, but follow the steps below to use the multi-function scanner/printers found on the MTSU campus.

Scanning with R. J. Young Campus Printers

  1. Log into the printer. Select the "Scan and Send" option.
    select Scan and Send button

  2. Select the “Send to Myself” option to send the PDF to your own email address.Arrow on image points to the Send to Myself button.

  3. Choose the “PDF” option on the right side of the screen.
    Arrow points toward the PDF (Compact) button

  4. Select the “Set Details” option. (This screen allows you to choose what format you want the scan to be in. In order for it to be accessible, you need to leave it set as PDF.)
    Arrow points toward the Set Details button

  5. Select the “OCR (Text Searchable)” option and hit OK. At the same time, deselect the “Compact” option. If "Compact" is left on, the text will not be renderable (accessible) to a screen reader.
    arrows point toward compact and OCR buttons

  6. Hit the “Start” button to start the scan.

    The scanned PDF should be in your inbox when you get back to your desk. The easiest way to check it to see if it worked would be to try to highlight text as if you were going to copy and paste it somewhere else. If the document will not allow highlighting text, it will need all of the operations outlined in Step 2 below.

    Also, there may be recognition errors that need to be corrected in Acrobat Pro. You will also want to correct reading order. See Step 2 below for help with those processes.
    Arrow points toward the large green scan button on the scanner


 If you run into any problems while trying to scan your documents, please feel free to call the Faculty Instructional Technology Center, 615-904-8189.


Once you have a good quality scan of papers, creating a fully accessible PDF is made easy with the Make Accessible Action Wizard in Adobe Acrobat Pro. Contact software@mtsu.edu to get a free copy of Acrobat Pro.

Step 2. Run the Make Accessible Action Wizard

  1. Open your PDF file.
  2. Open the Tools panel (click "Tools" in top right of Acrobat Pro XI or the top left of Acrobat Pro DC) and choose "Action Wizard" then "Make Accessible".
  3. Click the Start button
    1. Description — Enter a descriptive document Title. Other fields are optional.
    2. Recognize Text — If your PDF contains images of text, it will be converted into true text during this step.
    3. Detect Form Fields — Skip unless your page contains fillable forms.
      • Set Tab Order Property — Runs automatically
    4. Set Reading Language
    5. Set Alternate Text — A window will appear that allows you to add alternative text to images. Use the arrows to move between images and check Decorative figure if the image should be ignored by a screen reader.
    6. Run Accessibility Full Check- This checker will show additional issues.
      • Right click errors and warnings and select Fix to address the issues, Skip Rule if the issue has been addressed, and Explain to read online help. You can also run an on-demand check under Tools > Accessibility > Full Check.

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Information for this page was adapted from PCC's website and is based on the Creative Commons license.