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Making your PDF documents more accessible IRD Accessible Resources

Making your PDF documents more accessible

Posted in Accessible Resources

Ask Yourself

  • Do you create and structure your PDF documents to make them more accessible?
  • Do you know the difference between an image PDF and a text PDF?
  • Are you aware of the reading order of content inside your PDFs or how they behave on different devices?
  • Do you know that the contents of an image PDF often read out as ‘blank’ when used by students with assistive technologies?
  • Have you looked at your own PDFs on a mobile or tablet? Are they still readable?


PDF documents need to be structured and tagged to be more accessible for students using different technologies and devices. PDFs which are not accessible are often the result of converting non-structured content from other programs to PDF.

If you are scanning a section of a book, an image of the text will be captured and this will result in an inaccessible image PDF. An image PDF cannot be searched by users to find relevant content, and cannot be accessed by screen reader or text-to-speech (TTS) software.

In order to fulfill minimum accessibility requirements at least one other format must be provided with all PDF documents.


Providing a structured Word document as an alternative can assist all students using different devices, and with different accessibility requirements.

The easiest and most effective way to create a more inclusive PDF is by converting a well structured Microsoft Word document, from the Word menu options, as it will make a good source document for conversion to PDF.

When a well-structured source document is converted into PDF it is tagged. The PDF tag tree reflects the structure of the document, and it’s this structure that assistive technologies, like screen readers, use to navigate the document.

Provide the link to where you downloaded the PDF from as there may be an option to read it in HTML. Students can also read the abstract, summary and use the citation tools.

Related Topics

La Trobe Resources and References

Undergraduate Curriculum Design Policy provides guiding principles on course design.
Creating a more inclusive Adobe PDF document [DOCX] by Inclusive Resources Development.

External Resources and References

Creating accessible PDFs by Government Service Design Manual (UK).
Guidelines for Accessible E-text (2009), Appendix 1: A note about PDF by Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities.
PDF Accessibility by the Australian Government.
PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0 by W3C Working Group.
PDF Document Accessibility by Portland Community College.

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