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PDFs

Basics

  1. Acquire the correct versions of Acrobat and MS Office.
  2. Use Acrobat PDF Maker.
  3. Check if PDFs are accessible.
  4. Fix inaccessible PDFs.

Resources

In-depth

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. Follow the instructions below to create accessible text-based PDFs, as well as to test existing PDFs.

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
PowerPoint

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.

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2. Use Acrobat PDF Maker in MS Office.

  1. From within MS Word or PowerPoint, ensure your document is accessible by following the instructions in "MS Word Files" or "PowerPoint."
  2. Next, use the Acrobat PDF maker to create a PDF in Word or PowerPoint.

    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
    Word

    Adobe Acrobat PDF Maker in MS PowerPoint
    PowerPoint

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3. Check if PDFs are accessible.

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

  1. 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 Full 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 the next step.  

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4. Fix inaccessible PDFs.

A. Fix text-based PDFs.

In most cases, the easiest way to fix an inaccessible text-based PDF is to make the corrections in MS Word.

  1. Export the PDF as an MS Word .docx: In Acrobat, go to File > Export To > Microsoft Word > Word Document.
  2. Correct the issues in MS Word by following the instructions in "MS Word Files."
  3. Use the Acrobat PDF maker to recreate the PDF (see step #1 above).

For more complex documents, refer to:

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B. Fix image-based scanned PDFs.

If you're working with a scanned image of text, you will need to either acquire a text-based version or 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."

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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).

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C. Paid PDF repair services

Good PDF repair firms include CommonLookEquidox 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

Lynda.com's "Creating Accessible PDFs" is an in-depth and current course that's worth the time for anyone who works often with PDFs. All ASU faculty and staff have access to Lynda.com.

Sign in to lynda.com:

  1. Go to https://lynda.com
  2. Choose the "Login with Lynda.com" option (NOT the SSO or LinkedIn options).
  3. Your user ID is your asuriteID@asu.edu email.

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