Accessibility IT Productivity

How to Check PDF Accessibility

I was asked recently if a PDF generated by a colleague was accessible to me as a screen reader. As it happens, it wasn’t, and I provided feedback. But it got me into looking for tools that allows people to check PDF accessibility.

Aren’t all PDF’s accessible?

Heck no, far from it. PDF is one of the worst formats for accessibility if there hasn’t been steps taken to ensure it is accessible. While discussing with a family member, they thought that PDF would be accessible because you can select and copy the text. While this is often true, the issue comes with the sequence of the text and navigating the document. A poorly formatted document doesn’t have heading tags to help navigate the document. Also if there are sections of text on a page, they may be read out of sequence, making absolutely no sense to the reader.

Why Create Accessible PDFs?

It’s the right thing to do…. Ok, you want to understand the benefits to you. The first is obviously that it makes the document available to more people, but incase that isn’t enough to make you care, there are the following use cases listed by the PDF Association for using Well Tagged PDF (which ensures accessibility)

Use cases for this specification include:

  • ensuring accessibility of PDF 2.0 files;
  • managing reflow of content (e.g., for responsive layout on mobile devices);
  • derivation to other formats, including HTML;
  • interoperable structuring of unstructured content;
  • content and data extraction (e.g., copy-and-paste);
  • selection, annotation and redaction;
  • enhancing searchability;
  • unlocking content and semantics for use by AI;
  • change-tracking;
  • round-trip editing (e.g., word processor → PDF → word processor).

The obvious benefits to from the above, is improved search (think SEO) and the context that improves AI responses based on your PDF content. Who doesn’t want better SEO and their content to be included in AI responses?

Check PDF Accessibility Tool

At the time of writing there is PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC 2024) available on Windows to check your PDF for accessibility and compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Visit the PAC website to download PAC.

When you run PAC, you can either click Open Document or drag a PDF into an area of the screen. The PDF is analyses and provides three tabs of analysis. PDF/UA, WCAG and Quality. Each tab lists the high-level results of the analysis.

Home page of the PAC application. There is an Open Document Button and an area to drop a document into. The application then displays the results in three tabs, PDF/UA, WCAG and Quality. There are buttons at the bottom of the screen to view details, create a report, document statistics and view as a screen reader user.

Along the bottom of the screen you can select to view details, a report, logical structure, document statistics and screen reader preview.

There is a great quick start guide you can use to familiarise yourself with PAC further. View the Quick Start Guide for PAC

Where do I find out more?

With PAC, you now know if your PDF is accessible, but what about other document types, websites and apps? Check out my post Where do I start with Accessibility? for an evergreen list of accessibility resources.

Tell me what you think in the comments below or on X @timdixon82

By Tim Dixon

Tim Dixon has worked in IT for over 20 years, specifically within the Testing Inspection and Certification industry. Tim has Cone Dystrophy, a progressive sight loss condition that impacts his central vision, colour perception and makes him sensitive to light. He likes to share his experience of life and how he navigates the abyss of uncertainty.

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