Creating accessible PDFs
How to create accessible PDFs for the Church of Scotland website.
As part of our ongoing efforts to make the website as accessible and useful as possible, we are moving towards significantly reducing the number of PDF documents on the site. Wherever possible, we're converting the information in PDFs into web pages, which are more accessible and visible to search. However, we do understand that there are times when a PDF needs to be on the site (this is typically for something that must be printed off, such as a form). In that case, the PDF must be made accessible.
In order to be accessible, every PDF must have:
- Properly styled text
- Page numbers
- A user-friendly title (one that simply describes what the document is)
- No author name (we don't want names of our staff appearing on the website unintentionally)
- A subject
- Tags for headings and tables (this is explained further below)
- Alt text on images (these are also explained further below)
Accessibility errors to focus on
Some errors are more serious than others. Focus on those.
This should always be set to English. Word usually does this automatically. To fix this in Acrobat Pro, right click on ‘Primary Language’, and left click on ‘Fix’. Set the language to English and click OK.
If you forgot to add the title in the Word document before you saved it as a PDF, you can fix this error in Acrobat Pro. Right click on the Title error after running your accessibility check, and then left-click ‘Fix’
Untick the box that says ‘Leave As Is’ and fill in a title. If the subject box is also blank, add a brief description of what the document is about. Also remove any authors who may appear in the Author box.
This error will show for any image that does not have alt text or has not been marked as decorative.
To fix this error in Acrobat Pro:
- Right click Figures alternate text. Left click ‘Fix’
- The first image in the document will be highlighted and a box will appear for you to enter alternate text. Add your alt text, or tick the box ‘Mark as decorative’ as needed
- Click the right arrow at the top of the box to move to the next image. Do this for all images that need alt text added
- Click ‘Save and close’ when you’re finished
Acrobat can usually re-tag your document, if you run into this error
- Right-click Tab order. Left click ‘Fix’
- A box will show you whether the tag fix was successful or whether you need to do something else
If you need help fixing other errors in PDFs, Adobe has some guides for that!
Add alt text for images
If you have an image in your document, please add alt text so that its contents can be understood by those who are visually impaired.
Do not use pictures that have text overlaid on them. Screen readers will not be able to read the text.
You only need to add alt text if an image is essential to understanding the document. If it’s only decorative, you can mark it as such when following the steps below.
- Right-click the image
- Select ‘Format picture’, then choose ‘Alt text’ and type some descriptive text in the field. For example: A child painting during a Messy Church session. You do not need to type ‘Picture of’ or ‘Image of’ at the start. If the image is decorative, tick the box that says ‘Mark as decorative’.
- Aim to make your alt text short and clear
Add title, remove author and add keywords
In Word, select ‘file’ and click ‘info’. A menu will appear on the right-hand side of the page.
- Fill in the title of the document in the ‘Title’ box
- If there’s a name in the ‘Author’ box, right click it and select ‘Remove Person’.
- Add a brief description of the document to the ‘Subject’ box (you might need to click on ‘Show all properties’ to see the subject box)
- Click ‘Save’ on the left-hand menu to save your changes
Label pages with contents and page numbers
Once you’ve finished your document, you can add a table of contents, which makes it easier for people to use your document. They’ll be able to see at a glance the titles of all the sections and navigate to the one they need.
To create a table of contents, place the cursor at the top of your document and follow these steps:
- Click ‘References’ in the toolbar
- Select ‘Table of Contents’ (TOC)
- Choose ‘Automatic Table 1’
This should automatically create a TOC for you. If you add something to your document later and need to update the TOC, simply right-click on it, select ‘Update field’ and ‘Update entire table’.
To add page numbers to the footer on the right-hand side of all of your pages, click on ‘Insert’ in the top bar, select ‘Page number’ (on the right-hand side, along with Header and Footer) and select ‘Bottom of the page’ and ‘Plain number 3’. Your page numbers should be automatically added to the document.
Making a PDF accessible in Acrobat Pro
It’s easier and better practice to make a document accessible in Word, but there may be cases where that isn’t possible, such as with a PDF that’s been sent by a third party. In that case, you can make the PDF accessible in Adobe Acrobat Pro (please note that you must have the Pro version of Acrobat; you can’t do this in the regular version). If you do not have Acrobat Pro and have received a PDF that needs to be made compliant, please speak to the web team.
Run an accessibility check
- Open your PDF in Acrobat Pro
- Select ‘Tools’ in the top menu, then ‘Accessibility’ (if you don’t see it, then click the ‘more tools’ button, search for it and add it to your tools menu)
- Select ‘Accessibility Check’ and then ‘Start Checking’
- A list of errors in the document will appear on the left-hand side. Click on the arrow beside them to expand the lists.
Run Word's accessibility checker
Once your document is finalised, select ‘Review’ in the top toolbar and click ‘Check Accessibility’.
On the right-hand side of your screen, you’ll either see a notice saying the document is fine, or a list of errors and warnings in your document. When you hover over an error, an arrow will appear on the right-hand side. Click this to see options to fix the error.
Enable accessibility settings when you generate the final PDF
- Select ‘File’, then ‘Export’
- Click ‘Create PDF’
- When the save screen appears, click the ‘Options’ button
- Make sure the ‘Create bookmarks using headings’ box and the ‘Document structure tags for accessibility’ box are both ticked
- Select ‘OK’ and create your PDF
Ensure there’s a high level of contrast between your text and the background (think: black text on a white background). Try to avoid putting text on any sort of coloured background, or changing the colour of your text as that can make it much more difficult for people to read.
Avoid using a font size that is less than 12 point.
All caps and italics are poor for accessibility and should be avoided if possible. Only use bold if you need to emphasize a word or sentence, and underlining is reserved for web URLs.
If you are copying text from another document into yours, make sure to clear all formatting so that no styles are carried over from the original document.
To do this you should either use ‘Paste special’ and choose ‘Unformatted text’ when pasting content into your document, or you can paste it in as normal, select all the text by pressing ‘ctrl A’ and then clicking the eraser ‘Remove formatting’ button on the home pane of Microsoft Word (located just underneath the font size drop-down).
If you need to move text to another page, please don’t add in multiple returns—use page break. To insert a page break, place the curser just before the text you need to move, then choose ‘Insert’ from the top pane. Click on ‘Pages’ on the far-left hand side and select ‘Page break’. Any new content should now move to the next page.
If your document contains web links, make sure the link text is descriptive. Avoid using phrases such as ‘Click here’ or ‘visit this document’ as they do not describe what the link actually is. A better choice is, ‘If you need more information, visit the Church of Scotland website,’ or ‘The most recent Blue Book can be found on our General Assembly Publications page'.
Add heading tags to tables
Tables need to be set up so they are accessible to people using screen readers. There are three things you can do to achieve this.
Check that Header Row is ticked
When you insert a table, check in the upper left-hand corner of the Table Design panel and check that the ‘Header Row’ box is ticked.
Repeat column headings if your table is on multiple pages
Right click the table, select ‘Table Properties’, ‘Row’, then tick ‘Repeat as Header Row at the top of each page your table is on’.
Untick the ‘Allow Row to Break Across Pages’ box, so your rows don’t split across multiple pages.
Add Alt text to describe your table
Once you’ve created your table, right click it and select Table Properties. Click on the ‘Alt Text’ tab in the box that pops up. Add a title and a description of the content of the table.
Headings are important because they clearly set out the document's structure and ensure that tables of contents function properly.
You can use the Word preset headings that you’ll find in the top menu under ‘Styles’. There you’ll find Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on.
Use headings in copy
To turn a line of copy into a heading, simply highlight it and click the heading you want it to be in the ‘Styles’ menu.
Headings should follow a structure:
- H1 is a title
- H2 is a subsection under H1
- H3 is a subsection under H2