Analyze PDFs for Accessibility with Adobe Acrobat

Students analyze and fix PDFs to ensure accessibility
1:04

About This Strategy

This 3-hour strategy increases student awareness of accessible design principles and enables them to retrofit existing documents for accessibility using Adobe Acrobat DC. This strategy can be used on its own, or as a companion strategy to "Create Accessible PDF Documents." 

Instructors may choose to partner with a campus organization as a service learning project to increase document accessibility for that organization.  

Adobe Acrobat DC enables accessible design in creating, editing, and retrofitting PDF documents. This strategy underscores the importance of accessible document design and empowers students to create documents that can be used by individuals of  all abilities.

Supporting Tools and Resources

  • Student Sample
  • Adobe Acrobat

  • Editable Resource Bundle

  • PDF Resource Bundle

Outline for Teachers

180 minutes

Learn.

Students learn about how accessible design and assistive technologies that allow individuals with disabilities access resources  can help individuals with visual impairments access written documents, including websites and PDFs.  55 minutes)

Analyze.

Using Adobe Acrobat, students analyze existing PDF documents for accessible design, ideally sharing examples with peers following these steps. (60 minutes)

Adapt.

Students retrofit one of the existing PDF documents they found for accessibility, using Adobe Acrobat’s Accessibility Checker, which checks for elements such as leveled headings, alternative image text, contrast, etc. They use these steps to guide them through the process. Students can examine an example here, and read a tutorial here. (60 minutes)

Share.

Students share their accessible PDFs with peers and instructors, potentially also  sharing them with the source individual or organization to help increase awareness of accessibility in PDF design. (5 minutes)

Steps for Students

PDF versions of documents are incredibly common, and they allow unique formatting and design elements to be preserved in an electronic environment. However, many PDFs are not designed with accessibility in mind. In this strategy, you will take an existing PDF, either one that you find online or one that you’re assigned from your instructor, and analyze it for accessibility. Then, you’ll work to remediate that PDF to improve its accessibility for all users using Adobe Acrobat DC.

Adobe Acrobat DC enables accessible design in creating, editing, and retrofitting PDF documents, empowering you to create documents that can be used by individuals of  all abilities. 

Steps:

1. Note: If you previously completed the “Create Accessible PDFs” strategy, the first step of this strategy may be familiar. Review the following resources as necessary before moving on to Step 2.

As you prepare to analyze PDFs for accessibility, take note of principles and strategies that apply to accessible document design. You can use this notetaking page to help organize your ideas. (30 minutes)

  • Learn about what PDF accessibility is (and why it matters) by watching this short video from the advocacy group National Federation of the Blind. 

    • As you watch, consider how the scenario outlined in the video highlights the importance of having accessible learning materials before a class begins.

  • Learn how accessible design benefits all users, regardless of ability by watching this brief video, from Udacity.

    • What specifics do you notice about how accessible design benefits all users?

  • Consider the features of accessible design outlined in this resource from the University of Washington. 

    • In reviewing this list, can you identify any particular accessible design choices that are new to you or that you may have overlooked in previous design work?

2. The resources in the previous section help outline the importance of accessible document design. For more information about accessible PDFs, peruse this Adobe resource that covers information about accessible PDFs and consider why we might want to make our PDF content accessible to more users. You don’t need to read the entire document, but this is a good page to bookmark for reference. (20 minutes)

3.  On your own or with a partner/small group, write a list of at least three reasons why understanding and implementing accessible document design might be particularly important for technical writers. (10 minutes)

4. While PDF versions of documents are very common, they are not universally accessible. In fact, some PDFs, including scanned images of printed texts, may be challenging to read even for users without visual impairments. (20 minutes)

Find an existing PDF and analyze it for accessibility (or use one assigned by your instructor). 

To search Google for PDFs, navigate to Google then type your search term followed by the phrase filetype:pdf (for example, ‘national parks filetype:pdf’ or ‘best colleges filetype:pdf’). Adding this file type will return only PDFs in your search results.

5. While there are several measures that can help you analyze a PDF for accessibility, one way to do an initial check is to open it in Adobe Acrobat DC and have it read the document aloud to you. If you’re unsure how to do this, please reference the instructions below. (40 minutes)

As you follow along with the Adobe screen reader, note if the audible content doesn’t follow what you would expect based on the organization and design of the document. 

  • Is any of the content omitted in the audible content?

  • Are elements of the document read out of order, leading to confusion in understanding

  • Do images appear in the visual document that don’t become part of the read-aloud version?

As you identify problems in the audible reading, you can assume that underlying tags for accessibility are either omitted or out of order. You may want to select this PDF for remediation.

For an example of a PDF designed accessibly, click here. To see the source document of the PDF used as a student sample in this lesson, click here

Before moving on to Steps 3 and 4, print the document, if possible, and number the various sections of the document with a reading order that makes logical sense. If you are unable to print and label the document, you can take notes of the reading order on a separate paper or word processing document.

6. Read through the rubric for this assignment, noting the expectations your instructor will use to assess your work.

7. Once you’ve found a PDF that needs some remediation in order to meet accessibility standards, it’s time to edit its accessible design in Adobe Acrobat DC. Open the PDF in Acrobat, and use the Accessibility Checker—which checks for reading order, contrast, alternate images for text, and other content tags—to adjust the accessibility settings of your PDF. For more direction on how this process might unfold, please review this tutorial. (60 minutes)

Once you’ve completed the remediation, use Acrobat’s read aloud tool to check your work by following along with your remediated document as you read to make sure the new reading order and other elements work.

To help your instructor and peers understand the changes you made, annotate the PDF to note the changes. For help annotating a PDF, open this and scroll down to “How to Annotate PDF Files.”

8. Share your remediated PDF as directed by your instructor.

Rubric for Successful Analysis

Consult the attached rubric in order to evaluate students' PDFs.