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Digital accessibility guide

Explore how to create, design and structure your content to ensure that is is accessible to your students.

Get started accessible PDFs

PDF is a popular file format that allows documents to be represented as intended in any environment. However, many PDFs are not designed to be accessible, and so while they may be easy to open and share, they can present significant challenges for accessibility for users to engage with once opened.

Best accessibility practice recommends against creating PDFs when possible. Instead, when possible, we recommend: 

  • Creating, uploading or submitted files in editable formats, like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint,
  • Remediating existing PDFs to improve accessibility if PDFs are needed. 

PDF decision tree

If you need help deciding how to improve your PDFs files' accessibility, the below decision tree is designed to assist you decide your approach.

Description for PDF decision tree:

  1. Are you dealing with an existing PDF file?
    1. Yes (go to step 2)
    2. No (go to step 4)
  2. Do you have the source file?
    1. Yes (go to step 3)
    2. No (go to step 5)
  3. Remediate the source file and publish in original file format (addendum in step 10)
  4. Use authoring software to create and publish your document
  5. Do you have access to authoring software?
    1. Yes (go to step 6)
    2. No (go to step 7)
  6. Recreate content in authoring software and publish your document (addendum in step 10)
  7. Do you have access to Adobe Acrobat DC
    1. Yes (go to step 8)
    2. No (go to step 9)
  8. Run accessibility checker and remediate destination file (not recommended)
  9. Use external remediation service (recommended)
  10. If you must publish a PDF, export accessible source file to PDF

If you are considering using an external remediation service for your PDF files, please get in touch with Library Services who can offer more advice and support.

Creating accessible PDFs

The simplest way to improve the accessibility of any PDFs you create is to create your document in another application, such as creating documents in a word processing (e.g. Microsoft Word) or desktop publishing (e.g. Adobe CC InDesign) software with accessibility built in. If needed, these files can then be exported as PDFs, but the ability to build-in accessibility into the native documents will make the exported PDFs more useable. This approach is the most reliable way of achieving optimal accessibility in your PDF documents. If it is necessary to create PDF documents from scratch, there are ways users can ensure they are accessible. Note that this is not recommended – instead aim to create source files in word processing or digital publishing and share with students and others through that format.

If PDFs must be created:

Improving accessibility of existing PDFs

If you have existing PDFs, you can check for accessibility issues and remediate content as required to bring the documents up to standard. This is likely to be the case with PDFs created prior to the introduction of native accessibility checkers in software, or PDFs created by a third-party where the source files are now in the user’s ownership or control. 

Adobe offers a detailed workflow you can use to examine and repair your PDF documents. 


Adobe, 2021. Document Properties Accessibility [online]. Adobe Acrobat. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021].

Adobe, 2021. PDF Accessibility Repair [online]. Adobe Acrobat. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021].

Adobe, 2021. Analyze PDF files and add enhancements to make documents accessible to all users [online]. Adobe Acrobat Pro. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021].

Create accessible PDFs [online], 2021. [online]. Microsoft Support. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021].

[online], 2021. [online]. Create and verify PDF accessibility, Acrobat Pro. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021].

Make an existing PDF file accessible [online], 2021. [online]. Indiana University Knowledge Base. Available from: [Accessed 24 Sep 2021].

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