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How to create accessible PDFs

How to Check if your PDF File is Accessible

Not all PDF files are automatically accessible. Some PDFs have been scanned and entered in as images or the pages might not be in the proper read order. To check and see if your PDF is accessible, follow these steps:

  1. In the toolbar on your PDF reader, select: Edit → select all (or cmd-A),
  2. Paste the text from the PDF into a text-only editor (such as "Notepad" or "Notes"). If you were not able to copy and paste the text, the PDF is not accessible.
  3. If you were able to copy and paste the text, check that all the text was copied and that it is in the correct read order.
  4. If the text is garbled or was not in the correct order, then your PDF is not accessible. Convert your PDF using SCRIBE Project from the Office of Accessible Education. SCRIBE is also available within Canvas. If that doesn't work, contact the Office of Accessible Education for support

Other Tips for Creating Accessible PDFs

  • If you are posting PDFs from publications, also post the source URL, as the source may offer multiple reading formats for students..
  • If you are posting PDFs you created yourself, also post the source files (e.g. the original Word document or PowerPoint file), which can be more easily converted to an accessible format than a PDF.
  • If you are distributing your text in Canvas, consider copying and pasting the text into a Canvas Page rather than as an uploaded file to Canvas Files.
  • If you are creating a word-processed file (i.e. in Microsoft Word or Google Docs) and converting the document to a PDF, use the built-in headers and styles to distinguish different pieces of content (e.g. titles, subtitles, body text). If you had taken the effort to organize your document with headings and lists, you are conveying meaning with these styles, but this meaning is lost to students who can't see the visual styles. Built-in header options in word processors allow students using screen readers or text-to-speech applications to understand the hierarchies and headers within a document. Check out Web Accessibility in Mind's page on creating accessible headers in Microsoft Word for more information.