Skip to main content
Michigan State University

Creating Accessible PDFs

Microsoft Word 2007 enables you to save accessible Word documents as PDF files and be confident that accessibility tags will be preserved. After creating a Word document with the appropriate headings, lists, column headers in tables, descriptive links, and images with descriptions, use "Save as Adobe PDF" to save the document along with its accessibility tags to a PDF format:

  • Save As > Adobe PDF

You will then need to make two revisions to the PDF document to make it fully accessible: 1) identify the document language and 2) verify and (if needed) revise the reading order of the document.

Adding Accessibility Tags to Accessible Word Document Saved as PDF

Adding Document Language

Identifying the document language will improve screen reader pronunciation.

  • File > Open PDF Document
  • File > Properties > Advanced > Reading Options > English

Verifying and Repairing Reading Order

Reading order will often reflect the order in which objects have been put on the page, rather than how they make the most sense when read aloud. As a consequence, you have to review the reading order for a saved PDF and may have to revise it.

  • Advanced > Accessibility > Touchup Reading Order > Show Order Panel

This will put the TouchUp Reading Order panel, your document, and the Content/Order/Tags panel on your desktop. Numbered boxes will show the order in which the document will be read by a screen reader.

Illustration of panels on desktop screen including touchup reading order, document, and content/order/tags panels.

You can now see the reading order for each page by scrolling through the document. When you find a page in which the reading order is incorrect, click on the item in the Order panel and move it up to its correct place in the list.

Since descriptions in Adobe Professional can be confusing, right-click with your mouse and select "Highlight Content." Then you can click on individual items in the Order Tab so that they will be highlighted on the page you wish to revise.

Before Reordering

Illustration of desktop panels before reodering the content/order/tags.

Illustration of the Content Panel before reordering content tags.

After Reordering

Illustration of destop panels after reordering content/order/tags.

Illustration of the Order Panel after reordering content tags.

Adding Tags to Existing PDF Document

Adding tags to an existing, untagged PDF Document can be difficult and time-consuming since tags for images, headings, and column headers must be added and revisions made to reading order.

Once a PDF document has been created, it is virtually impossible to add new content, such as a link phrase or heading. This is another reason it is best to make a document accessible in Word, and then save it as a PDF.

If you have an untagged PDF document and must use it, you have three options:

  1. Take it to the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RPCD) and ask them to make it accessible.
  2. Submit it to NetCentric for remediation.
  3. Use a combination of Adobe Professional and CommonLook (from NetCentric) to make it accessible. CommonLook is a complex and confusing application but can be very effective once understood. Information about its benefits and challenges can be found at