How does Adobe Acrobat provide accessibility for people with disabilities?

Adobe® Acrobat® software addresses the needs of both users with disabilities and authors of accessible content. The new features and enhancements and free Adobe Reader® software enable users with disabilities to access, read, and use Adobe PDF documents and forms across multiple languages more easily. And the improved tools for generating, reviewing, and enhancing PDF files available in the Acrobat family make it easier than ever for authors to create and distribute electronic content that is optimized for accessibility.


Which Acrobat products must I use to create accessible PDF files?

Although Adobe Acrobat Standard software provides some functionality for making existing PDF files accessible, only Adobe Acrobat Pro software can perform certain tasks — such as editing reading order or document structure tags — that may be necessary to make some PDF documents and forms accessible. (Note: if you are a Creative Cloud subscriber, Acrobat Pro DC is the version included in your subscription.)

You cannot use Adobe Reader to make PDF files accessible, but users can export a plain text version of a PDF file using Adobe Reader.


Are PDF files that are viewed in Adobe Reader accessible?

The accessibility of any individual PDF file depends upon how well the author prepared the file for accessibility. Adobe Reader takes advantage of all attributes of PDF files that have been properly prepared for accessibility. Better quality content results in a more satisfactory reading experience.

Adobe Reader attempts to compensate for certain shortcomings in PDF files that have not been properly prepared for accessibility. For example, it temporarily tags an untagged PDF file so that users of assistive technology such as screen readers can read as much of the content as possible. Adobe Reader DC will also automatically adjust the contrast of documents when it detects that a user has high-contrast mode enabled.

Additionally, Adobe Reader has the built-in accessibility features available in Acrobat:

  • Support for screen readers and magnifiers on Windows and Mac OS X for visual disability
  • Auto-scroll for limited mobility
  • Contrast view for visual disability
  • Reflow for visual disability
  • Read Out Loud for visual disability and cognitive disability
  • Read Form Fields for visual disability and cognitive disability
  • Save as Text (Acrobat supports the export of other formats, such as Microsoft Word, HTML, RTF, and XML)

Adobe Reader DC, however, does not have the accessibility authoring tools included in Acrobat Pro DC. For example, it cannot perform optical character recognition (OCR) conversions, nor can it add missing alternate text descriptions to graphics in PDF files.


Can I make scanned PDF files accessible?

The first step in making scanned documents accessible is to perform Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, on the scanned page image. OCR converts images of alphanumeric characters into actual text that can be searched, read by assistive technology, exported to other formats or copied and pasted into other applications. Acrobat has an OCR text recognition feature that allows you to apply OCR to the scanned pages.

The resulting PDF files contain computer-generated text, which is necessary for making the file's information accessible to screen readers and other assistive technologies. You may need to further process the files at this point by using the accessibility authoring tools in Acrobat to add structure (tags), alternate text for graphics that appear in the file, and accessible form fields if applicable. You may also need to adjust the reading and tab order for interactive PDF file components. The Make Accessible Action in Acrobat Pro DC helps to automate many of these tasks. 


Can I make fillable PDF forms accessible?

Acrobat Pro offers two options for creating accessible, interactive PDF forms. The form tools in Acrobat Pro allow you to automatically recognize form fields in PDF files and Microsoft Word documents. Acrobat form tools can also create accessible interactive PDF forms.


Why must I tag PDF files to make them accessible?

The ability to tag PDF documents is part of the PDF specification that allows PDF files to contain logical document structure such as headings, figures, and paragraphs. Tagged PDF files include complete logical structure plus additional information about a document's contents that substantially increase accessibility.

Some accessibility benefits of tagged PDF files include:

  • Allows users of screen readers to navigate by the documents heading levels (H1, H2, etc.)
  • Support alternative text descriptions for graphics
  • Allow precise control over document reading order and semantics, including headings, table data, and form fields
  • Understand paragraph attributes, which is necessary for accurate text reflow
  • Enable the export of document content and structure to other formats, such as RTF and TXT
  • Allow accessible interaction with documents, such as filling in form fields and following links
  • Represent all text as Unicode — a standard for describing text characters — so characters and words are presented to assistive technologies clearly, for example, differentiating between soft and hard hyphens so a word broken across two lines reads as a single word


Does Acrobat comply with accessibility standards and guidelines?

Acrobat and Reader were created with the regulations in Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1998 in mind. To help government customers determine their own compliance, Adobe has prepared a document called the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) that details Acrobat and Reader accessibility features in the context of Section 508 guidelines. This compliance statement applies to the two applications, not to the compliance of specific PDF files, which must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.


Does the Accessibility Checker automatically create accessible PDF files by fixing accessibility errors?

If you want to make your documents more accessible to people with disabilities, you can use the Accessibility Checker to help you evaluate the accessibility of your documents and identify areas that may be in conflict with Adobe's interpretations of the referenced guidelines. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC includes a Make Accessible Action which guides authors through key steps in creating and verifying an accessible PDF. It will help you add tags, tag content as headings, paragraphs, or images, add descriptions of images and charts, and more.However, the Accessibility Checker does not check all accessibility guidelines and criteria, including those in such referenced guidelines, and Adobe does not warrant that your documents will comply with any specific guidelines or regulations. Please consult with your legal counsel for guidance on compliance with the referenced guidelines or any other accessibility guidelines. 


If I generate a PDF file from a desktop publishing or word processing application, can I assume it is going to be accessible?

Several tools can create tagged PDF files automatically, including:

  • Microsoft Office applications when Acrobat is installed
  • The most recent versions of Adobe FrameMaker®, InDesign®, LiveCycle Designer ES, and PageMaker®
  • The Web Capture feature in Acrobat

However, this is not entirely an automatic process. Creating an accessible electronic document requires using both the right tools and proper authoring techniques. Software applications geared toward accessible content retain and encode document content and structure and deliver that information effectively for use by assistive technologies.

Authors must also create documents with accessibility in mind. They need to:

  • Define structure such as headers and columns
  • Add navigational features such as bookmarks and hyperlinks
  • Include explanatory information such as alternative text equivalents for graphics, so that a blind person using screen reader software can understand the purpose of the graphics

You may still need to review the results in Acrobat when transforming source files into PDF.

Acrobat provides all of the capabilities you need through a variety of functions, including the Accessibility Checker, Tags palette, and Recognize Text feature, to help ensure that the accessibility encoding available in the source application is successfully translated into PDF.