Creating Accessible PDF's

Creating Accessible PDF's

Overview:

Manhattan College ITS is encouraging employees to begin to take some simple steps that will structure your documents so that they are more accessible. When creating documents, spreadsheets or presentations it is important to provide an organized structure to all your documents in a way that allows them to be accessible. Fortunately many word processing tools such as MS Word or Google Docs are advanced in the accessibility area and allows you to use features generally available within each tool.


Objective:

The previous topic's focus was on creating accessible Google Docs. This topic's challenge will focus on best practices, for creating accessible PDF's. The Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) provides a convenient way to transport, view and print electronic documents. PDF files are typically created in other applications like MS Word and PowerPoint. They can also be produced by scanning the pages of a book or journal article.

This topic will focus on examining some of the features that make PDF documents more usable by a diverse audience. The information will also provide techniques for improving the accessibility of existing and new PDF documents.

Note: This section refers to two Adobe software applications. Reader and Acrobat. Adobe Reader is a free application that is limited to viewing, searching and printing PDF files. Adobe Acrobat, by contrast, is a full-featured application that allows for the creation and editing of PDF documents.

How Does Digital Accessibility Impact Manhattan College Faculty, Staff and Students?

  • Faculty creating instructional materials and presenting lessons.
  • Employees creating documents, forms, newsletters and correspondence for distribution.
  • Students writing reports and preparing presentations.

Other ways to make a document more accessible so it ready to be converted to PDF include:

Create Clear Titles:

Straightforward PDF titles are key for achieving clarity in your content. The people are going to first need to find the document on your website. Align the title of the document with the type of information that is included in the PDF file. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this file? What type of information would a customer need from this document? For example, if the document is a business loan application, then a good file title is quite simply Business Loan Application. 

Defining PDF Accessibility

Before discussing accessibility of PDF files, it is important to distinguish between Adobe, Acrobat and PDF.  These items are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Adobe is 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. Some Manhattan College departments pay for Adobe Acrobat licenses, they would follow instructions on how to  Create PDFs from Microsoft Office

Overview

PDF files are not typically created in Acrobat. They are usually created in another program and converted to PDF. There are dozens or probably hundreds of programs that can create PDF files, but very few of them produce tagged PDF files. If you are using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, you can often create accessible, tagged PDF files without opening Acrobat. Of course, the accessibility of the PDF depends on the accessibility of the original document.

What are PDF tags?

The technical answer is this: Tags define the function and order of content in a document. Many PDF tags resemble their counterparts in HTML. For example, there is a <p> tag for paragraphs, <table> and <td> for tables and table cells, <h1> for level 1 headings, etc. Although they are normally invisible, tags provide valuable interpretive cues to assistive technology like screen reader software, and are therefore an essential part of PDF accessibility.

Fortunately, tags are generated automatically during conversion from Microsoft Office applications using the “Adobe PDF” menu. The Adobe PDF menu is a part of Acrobat PDFMaker, an application added to Office applications when Acrobat is installed.

Tags can also be added manually in Acrobat by choosing Advanced > Accessibility > Add Tags to Document. Once applied, tags can be edited to improve or customize document organization.

Bookmarks

Each PDF document contains a navigation pane called "Bookmarks." A bookmark is a type of link with representative text in the Bookmarks panel in the navigation pane. Each bookmark goes to a different view or page in the document. Bookmarks are generated automatically during PDF creation from the table-of-contents entries of documents created by most desktop publishing programs. These bookmarks are often tagged and can be used to make edits in the PDF. Bookmarks can be easily added and edited in Adobe Acrobat.

Scanning to PDF

It is best to create a PDF from an original electronic document. However, if scanning is the only method available, take care with the scanning process. Use a clean copy of the article and place it squarely on the scanner process. Use a clean copy of the article and place it squarely on the scanner Avoid pages that have been photocopied multiple times. Obtaining a clear image of the text is essential to the next step in the creation of an accessible PDF document: optical character recognition.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

To create a more versatile version of your scanned document, use OCR to convert the image of text to real, editable text. Many scanners offer a “copy as text” feature, which is useful for small blocks of text. Multipage documents can also be scanned and converted to text using OCR, with all of the text stored in a single file.

Adobe Acrobat should bring up a prompt to run OCR when scanning a document, or the option can be chosen from the menu: Document > Recognize Text Using OCR > Start. Note that character recognition is not foolproof, and proofreading is always recommended after using OCR.

The accuracy of OCR is affected by several factors:

  • The quality of the source image (i.e., whether the text is crisp and legible) 
  • The typeface (font) of the original text 
  • Whether the page was squarely positioned on the scanner 
  • The resolution of the scanned image, often measured in dots per inch (DPI) 
  • The quality of the OCR software
OCR tools vary in quality and accuracy. The OCR engine built into Adobe Acrobat is adequate for most jobs. Also, the resolution of your scan may help determine the success of OCR. Setting the scanner to 300 dpi (dots per inch) usually yields good results, although occasionally a setting of 600 dpi may be required, especially when working with small type. Resolutions higher than 600 dpi produce larger files with no increase in OCR accuracy.

Converting Electronic Documents to PDF

Start with a MS Word document, you will be able to export the document to PDF using the following:

Converting to PDF in Microsoft Office 

Converting from Microsoft Office is the best way to convert from Office files to PDF since it maintains the accessibility of the document the best. Follow these instructions on converting your documents to PDF in Office on Windows or Mac: 

Windows: Converting to PDF in Microsoft Office

To convert a Word Doc to PDF using Microsoft Word on Windows, select: File > Export > Create PDF/XPS Document select the Create PDF/XPS Document button. 

To convert a Powerpoint to PDF using Microsoft Powerpoint on Windows, select: File > Export > Create PDF/XPS Document  
select the Create PDF/XPS Document button. 

To convert an Excel spreadsheet to PDF using Microsoft Excel on Windows, select: File > Export > Create PDF/XPS Document. More information on converting to Office files to PDF on Windows, is available:   Converting Microsoft Office files to PDF on Windows 

Make sure that you select the option for Tagged PDFs: image of window that appears in MS office where you must select Options


image of Options Window that appears and shows that you must choose Document structure tags 

MacOS: Converting to PDF in Microsoft Office

To convert a Word, Powerpoint, and Excel file as a PDF in Office for Mac select File > Save As and beside File Format you will specify PDF as the File Format that you would like to export to. When  finished, select Export.

For more information on converting to Office files to PDF on MacOS, refer to: Converting Microsoft Office files to PDF on MacOS 


image that appears that shows you that you must select Options 


image  that appears that shows you must select Document structure tags for accessibility 

Sometimes when creating a PDF, especially by scanning a document, it does not allow for an accessible document. Create a PDF using a quality scanner app as long as it is not an image. Make sure that the scanner you are using makes use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so that it can scan the words on the document so that a screen reader can read what is scanned. (i.e. phone app) 

Other ways to make a document more accessible so it ready to be converted to PDF include:


Create Clear Titles:

Straightforward PDF titles are key for achieving clarity in your content. The people are going to first need to find the document on your website. Align the title of the document with the type of information that is included in the PDF file. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this file? What type of information would a customer need from this document? For example, if the document is a business loan application, then a good file title is quite simply Business Loan Application. 

Optimize Content for Screen Readers: 

Many people who have visual disabilities will use a screen reader to access the information in a PDF document. Therefore, it’s important to use readable language and steer away from acronyms, symbols or shortcuts. While a screen reader can read those, it may not be clear to the individual listening. After the document is found, the people will need to find the appropriate section within the document to fulfill their needs. Look beyond the title of the document and into the headings.


Last modified: Tuesday, 15 January 2019, 2:19 PM