This is a 2017 resource that is no longer updated and has been superseded by Understanding PDF Accessibility.

Review the following items to find out if your PDF (Portable Document Format) is accessible for a screen reader user.

Already have your PDF? Follow the steps below

Does the computer think your PDF is an image?

  • Open your PDF and try to click within it to highlight words or lines of text. If you can, then the PDF is at least somewhat accessible--a computer should be able to detect that the PDF has text inside.
  • However, if you click on the PDF and the entire page lights up as blue or yellow, then the computer thinks your PDF is an image! This happens when you scan material on a photocopy machine and save it as a digital copy; what you end up with are literally photographs of the text that are read as “blank” by screen reader software. PDFs in this category require remediation.

Is your document a “clean copy,” or free of highlights, written annotations, or cut-off edges?

  • Try to find a “clean” copy either by searching for it on the Internet, finding it through a Library database (it will likely be accessible!), or re-photocopying it more carefully.
  • “Dirty” copies cause lots of problems for screen reader tools that cannot accurately interpret the text because of lines, marks, or cut-off edges.

Do you need to remediate your PDF? Use SensusAccess.

SensusAccess uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to render text as readable, and it is accessed for free by anyone at CU Boulder who has an email address that ends in

  • If your document is basically an image (you cannot highlight words or phrases), you’re going to use a tool called SensusAccess to begin remediating it.
  • Follow the instructions on the SensusAccess service page. You will likely want to select “accessibility conversion” and go from PDF format to PDF format to preserve other aspects of your document such as layout on the page.
  • Once you upload your document, SensusAccess will send you a remediated copy as an attachment to your email address.

Do you have Adobe Acrobat Pro?

  • If your document is at least somewhat accessible (you can highlight words or phrases, or you’ve already processed it with SensusAccess), open up your PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  • Run the built-in Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Checker. Resolve any issues that may arise, such as a lack of heading levels, alternative text for images, reading order, etc. Use the Adobe Create and Verify PDF Accessibility online documentation to help you remediate accessibility issues using Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  • If you do not have access to Adobe Acrobat Pro, make a note whenever possible that the PDF is not fully accessible and may require additional remediation for users of screen reader assistive technology.

Are you converting from Word to PDF?

Some accessibility features, such as headings, lists, and tables, are maintained when you convert a document from Word to PDF, while others, such as document language are lost. This Office help article explains how to create a properly tagged PDF from a Word document