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Content Accessibility

PDF Document Best Practices

All creators of documents for student access should utilize the assets presented in a portable document format (PDF) to achieve more effective communication resulting in greater student success.

A LibGuide that answers "yes" to all applicable questions would be deemed acceptable for content accessibility.

PDF Content- File should open to Document title NOT file name.

  • Is the document title clearly recognizable as to what it is – no spaces or special characters – file name concise approximately 20-30 characters?
  • Are the pages numbered?
  • If color is used as an emphasis in the text, is there an alternate method present (underline, bold, etc.)?
  • Is the contrast between the foreground text and background colors are in acceptable range (4.5:1)?
  • Is bullet or numbering style used instead of typed characters (hyphens, asterisks)?
  • Are tracked changes turned off?
  • Are comments removed?
  • Have you reviewed the document in print preview to ensure that its final formatting is appropriate?
  • Are all URL’s properly hyperlinked and display full URL, like University of Massachusetts Lowell ( so that they can be accessed from the document?
  • Has a separate accessible version of the document been provided when there is no other way to make the content available (example - a scanned document/book is also available on reserve in the library)?

Layout and Formatting

  • Is the document free of scanned images of text?
  • Are bookmarks included in PDF that exceed 9 pages long and are ordered in a logical manner (i.e. chapters, key topics, etc.)?
  • Are decorative images marked as background or artifact (alt-text description)?
  • If using Acrobat, was accessibility checker used to identify issues?
    • Tools > Action Wizard > Make Accessible. (This will not result in an accessible document. Reading Order and Tag tree must be manually checked.)
  • Is the document free of layout tables? ( Tables can be tagged to be accessible).
  • Are images and graphics clear and legible?
  • If present, does the table of contents have correct page numbers and is linked properly?

Accessibility Tagging & Reading Order

  • Has the PDF been created using style elements present (i.e. Header 1, Header 2, etc.)?
  • Are heading styles organized hierarchically and in a logical fashion?
  • Have documents with multicolumn text, tables, or boxes been checked for correct reading order?
  • Have footnotes and references tagged been placed in a logical reading order?

PDF Images

  • Do all images presented have an alternative text description?
  • Do complex images like charts, graphs, etc. have descriptive text after it to relay information?
  • Is the document free of background images or watermarks?
  • If present, are multiple associated images on the same page (boxes in an organizational chart are grouped as one object)?

PDF Tables

  • Have tables been created using the table structure (not free form using tabs)?
  • Do tables have a logical reading order from left to right, top to bottom?
  • Do all data tables have a header row? Are the header cells identified as column or row, (scope) and is the span width designated?
  • Are tables free from merged cells?
  • Are tables described and labeled (small data tables in a presentation might not need an explanation)?
  • In table properties, is “allow row to break across pages” unchecked?

Form Fields

Need more information? Consider reviewing Brandon Drake's PowerPoint on Creating Accessible PDF Forms below.