Digital Literacy

How to make sure your PDFs are accessible

Accessible Documents

Making your documents accessible to all students regardless of impairment is an essential skill for all educators to learn. We frequently make PDF documents available to our students, but we have a responsibility to make sure these are accessible to disabled students. There is an added advantage to this, in that making a PDF document accessible also makes it more user-friendly for everyone and improves the ability to highlight and annotate digitally.

Whilst a really accessible PDF file will have good bookmarks and captions for all non-text elements (images, charts, graphs, etc), the steps to making your PDF accessible at a really basic level are pretty straightforward and should be part of your normal workflow.

PDFs that you don’t create yourself from a program such as Word, will need to be converted to be accessible. These sorts of PDFs may be ones you’ve obtained from elsewhere (and have permission to re-upload) or digital scans, for example a book chapter under a CLA license. The video below shows you how to determine whether your PDF is accessible or not.

If it isn’t, then you’ll need to use a program that can convert the scanned image to a selectable text format (PDF Converter is one example). This is a process called Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and good programs make this easy – you simply choose to ‘Save As…’ with a ‘Searchable PDF’ or ‘Accessible PDF’ file type.

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