The easiest way to create an accessible PDF is to start with an accessible document, spreadsheet or presentation.

Document accessibility problems come in two main flavors:

  1. Inaccessible source documents
  2. Inaccessible PDFs

Solving #1 goes a long way toward preventing #2.

Document accessibility starts with a lot of the same best practices that you use on the web. That’s because, as with a website, tools like screen readers parse all digital content the same way. Creating accessible docs is largely a matter of setting up a good workflow, so taking a little time to create good habits – or good templates – early can pay off big in terms of time saved later.

Issue: Electronic documents (including those that people can download from your site) are subject to the same accessibility requirements as websites. 

Who’s affected: Screen reader users, people with cognitive disabilities

Standard: Guideline 1.3.1 Info and Relationships 

What to do: In documents (typically in Google docs or MSWord) you’ll want to pay attention to: 

  • Heading structure: (See Heading hierarchy in websites section)
  • Alt text: See Images/alt text in websites section. We recommend using the native accessibility checker in Microsoft Word to check your documents for accessibility. (Even if it means converting your Google Doc to Word).
  • Meaningful link text: see Link text in websites section
  • Data table accessibility video (Microsoft help video but same principles apply in Google Docs)
    • Include a header row and column headers
    • Only use tables for data. DO NOT use tables to influence the page layout (ie. create a two-column layout or a layout with rows)
  • List formatting (use numbered for lists with hierarchy or sequence, bulleted for lists without)
  • Color contrast: see Color contrast in websites section