Testing PDF Accessibility

Inaccessible PDFs need to be deleted, replaced, or remediated in order to make your web or academic content fully accessible, but how can you determine if a PDF is accessible or not?

Baseline Accessibility : Searchable, Tagged, & Titled PDFs

PDFs are considered to have baseline accessibility if they contain recognizable, tagged text rather than functioning like an image where the text is not properly identified. This can be achieved through automated Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Testing if your PDF is Searchable

Follow these steps test your PDF to identify if it is searchable. We recommend that you perform both tests, especially on documents with low quality text definition.

Selecting Text:

Attempt to highlight a word on the page. If you cannot highlight the word, but instead draw a box over the word, then your document does not have recognizable text and therefore is not searchable.

Command + F (Mac) or Control + F (MS):

Use the Find function to see if a word you can visually see in the document is identifiable by AI. If this works, your document is searchable!

Testing if your PDF is Tagged & Titled

“Tagging” is the process of providing structure and meaning to AI recognizable text. Tagged PDFs that have accessible titles and properties benefit users, creators, and our institution. Follow these steps to test if your PDF is tagged and titled appropriately.

Tags Pane:

View the Tags in your document in Adobe Acrobat Pro by going to View > Show/Hide > Navigation Panes > Tags. A tagged PDF should have tags present and, at a minimum, contain at least one <H1> (Heading Level 1) tag in order to meet baseline accessibility compliance.

Title and Other Properties:

View the document properties in Adobe Acrobat Pro by going to File > Properties:

  • Open the Description tab to view the “Title” element. The title should express the name of your document in plain language, not structured like a file name.
  • Open the Initial View tab within the same dialogue box and ensure that under Window Options the Show attribute is set to “Document Title.”
  • Open the Advanced tab within the same dialogue box and ensure that under Reading Options the Language attribute is set to the correct language

Fully Accessible: Screen Reader Accessible PDFs

Documents that must be fully accessible include documents that are newly created and posted publicly, widely distributed to a broad audience, or required by a student or employee with an accommodation for screen reader accessible file formats.

Automated Testing: Run the Acrobat Accessibility Checker

Go to View > Tools > Accessibility > Open. The Accessibility Panel will open on the right side of your screen.

  • From this pane, select Accessibility Check > Start Checking without changing any settings in the dialogue box.
  • Evaluate the results produced by the Accessibility Checker in the pane that appears on the left side of your screen.
  • Color contrast and reading order will always require a manual check, but if additional issues are present your document is not fully accessible.
  • If color contrast and reading order are the only issues presented, move on to manual checks.

Manual Checks:

In addition to color contrast and reading order, we recommend that you manually evaluate the quality and accuracy of the tags to ensure that they provide sufficient structure.


Visually examine the document to ensure that the colors used contrast sufficiently keeping in mind specifically users with low vision. If you are unsure about how two colors work together, the contrast between the two colors can be checked. To do so:

Also consider if the information provided creates any color reliance, meaning that the information presented wouldn’t make sense unless the colors can be perceived. For example, “Courses listed in red must be taken during a fall semester.” Color failures that impact readability or understanding prevent a document from being fully accessible.

Reading Order:

Navigate back to the Tags Pane and use your arrow keys to move down the list of tags, noticing the element that is associated with each tag as it is outlined on the document. This is the order that information will be presented to assistive technology users. If the order is not logical, consistent, or as expected then the document is not fully accessible.

Tag Quality/Accuracy:

While in the Tags Pane, evaluate if the content is tagged thoroughly enough to provide clarity and structure to assistive technology users. Specifically check that:

  • Headings that are identifiable visually are also tagged using the appropriate hierarchy
  • Paragraphs are tagged individually rather than multiple instances being group together
  • Lists are tagged as lists rather than as paragraph (<P>) elements

If the content is not tagged in such a way to create an equitable experience for users with a disability, then the document is not fully accessible.

Handing an Inaccessible PDF

It is important to remember than an inaccessible PDF is not just problematic; posting an inaccessible document in a public space is a violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act, it makes our online presence less accessible for users and therefore less inclusive, and it puts the university at risk or legal action. If your testing reveals that a PDF is inaccessible, consider removing the file from public access, remediating the document using one of the tools listed below, or converting the document into a more accessible format such as HTML.

Document Remediation Software and Services:

Alternatives to Document Remediation:

  • Conversion to HTML (Recommended Solution)
  • Privatizing the Document