Creating the PDF

Adobe, Acrobat, and PDF

Before discussing the accessibility of PDF files, it is important to distinguish between Adobe, Acrobat and PDF. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

  • Adobe is a company; they are the creators of Acrobat.
  • Acrobat is a tool for creating, editing, and viewing PDF files.
  • PDF is a format or type of document. It stands for Portable Document Format. The PDF format was created by Adobe.

The terms Adobe, Acrobat, and PDF are related in the same way as Microsoft, Word, and doc.

When people talk about "accessible" PDF files, they usually are referring to "tagged" PDF files, even though there is more to an accessible PDF than tags. PDF tags provide a hidden structured, textual representation of the PDF content that is presented to screen readers. The tags exist for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF file.

(Source for the above information: © WebAIM, see WebAIM site)

Accessible PDF documents will allow a screen reader to access and read the content of the PDF document. The best approach is to (re)create an accessible source document (through Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, for example) and then convert it to the PDF format. Saving to a PDF format structures PDF tags as part of the file.

  1. Create an accessible source document.
  2. Click on “Save As" or "Export To."
  3. Choose PDF as the type of format.

Care should be taken to avoid PDF files that will be unreadable by a screen reader:

  • Avoid items that have been scanned, as a scanned document is an image and a screen reader will see the image as a blank page.  
  • If the item is originally a JPG or a PNG, then the file is an image and will not be read by the screen reader.