Creating accessible PDFs

It is critical that content is accessible to the widest possible audience and complies with accessibility standards and regulations, such as WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 of the U.S. Government’s Rehabilitation Act. An “accessible” electronic document is one that is optimized for screen readers and other assistive devices used by persons with disabilities. Producing accessible content also plays a key role in optimizing PDF documents for successful indexing by Internet search engines.

Achieving this kind of accessibility requires tagging all document content based on its hierarchical structure (headings, paragraphs, lists, tables, and so on) and ordering the content in a linear path from start to finish. An additional requirement for accessible documents is identifying nontext content, such as graphics and images, in context and describing what is shown.

InDesign offers a direct and simple workflow that dramatically reduces the time and effort required to produce accessible PDF documents from an InDesign layout. Most of the tasks are executed within InDesign, with only a few final steps required in Adobe Acrobat. This allows hierarchical and structural information to reside in the InDesign file, making updates faster and easier when you need to generate a revised accessible PDF document.


To create an accessible PDF, you need the following:

  • InDesign to prepare a document for accessible PDF export using the process described in this article.
  • Acrobat to finalize the accessibility process. You cannot accomplish these steps with the free Adobe Reader application.

Workflow for creating accessible PDFs

At a high level, the process of creating accessible PDFs consists of a few basic stages:

  1. Add Export Tagging instructions to paragraph styles
  2. Add Alt text using Object Export Options
  3. Anchor images into the text flow
  4. Establish a reading order with the Articles panel
  5. Add bookmarks, cross-references, and hyperlinks for navigation
  6. Add interactive form elements
  7. Add file metadata to the InDesign document
  8. Export for accessibility
  9. Review the exported PDF in Acrobat
  10. Assign a document language in Acrobat 
  11. Specify the tab order
  12. Run the Acrobat accessibility check




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