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Point’s to consider when creating a PDF document

This section looks at techniques for ensuring that existing PDF documents are accessible.

N.B. These functions are available in paid Adobe Acrobat Professional but may not be available in free to download Adobe reader software.

Adobe Professioanl can be purchased via the Collge supplier Micromail -

Tag the PDF layout

PDF documents are often intended to replicate a printed document and, as such, tend to have complex layouts including multiple columns, images, pull quotes and text boxes. Unless these are tagged correctly these elements can disrupt the reading order of the document. In order for the Reflow functions and screen readers to work correctly, the reading order must be set correctly. Incorrect tagging can cause the reading order to become confusing for users.


Adding Tags and Structure to PDFs

If the source document has been properly created using styles and headings within MS Word these will be carried over when the document is converted to PDF format.

However if you do not have access to the source document or it was not well structured, it is possible to add the appropriate tags to your PDF. This can be a lengthy process if you are working with a long page.Image of tag dialogue box

N.B.: It is important to note that any existing tags will be erased, leaving a completely unstructured page.

To setup a new structure on a PDF page:

  • Navigate to view > tools > Accessibility > Touch Up Reading Order
  • Using the mouse, select the area to be tagged.
  • Click on the appropriate button. For example to make the selected text into a main heading, click the 'Heading 1' button. This will tag the selection as a particular type of content.
  • Reading order is determined by the order in which the content is tagged, i.e. the first tagged item will be the first item in the reading order.

PDFs and Bookmarks Bookmark dialogue box

Bookmarks can be built in with relative ease if a document is created using the appropriate styles and headings within Microsoft Word. However, it is also possible to manually add new bookmarks or amend existing ones where necessary.

To set a bookmark:

  • Open the bookmarks tab by either using the bookmarks button on the left of the document, or by navigating to View > Tools > Content.
  • Using the 'Select Tool' select the appropriate text within the PDF and click on the New Book mark icon.

PDFs and Images Alt text dialogue box in Acrobart

Alternative text are used to describe an image. If these are added to the source document i.e within your MS Word document before the PDF version is created they will be transfer into the PDF. This is explained in our guide to images in MS Word.

The Accessibility Check will identify any images that do not have alternative text. Alternative text can be added to the PDF document and existing Alternative text edited if necessary.

To do this follow the below steps :

    1. Select an image that does not have alt text.
    2. With the selection tool, select the image.
    3. Choose Object > Object Export Options.
    4. Select the Alt Text tab in the Object Export Options dialog box.
    5. Choose Custom from the Alt Text Source menu.
    6. Enter the description in the text field, and click Done.

Screen reader compatibility issues

Be aware that older versions of screen reading software may not be compatible with PDF document reading software. Keep a Word copy of materials to be provided if requested as an alternative.

User awareness of the product

Users are often unaware of the potential benefits of PDF format, such as the ability to reflow text or alter the background and text colours. Authors are often equally unaware of how to optimise accessibility. Aim to optimise the accessibility features when using PDFs.

Last updated 27 March 2018 by Trinity Inclusive Curriculum (Email).