What is PDF accessibility?

What is PDF accessibility?

To better understand the concept of PDF Accessibility, let us first define each words individually.

PDF, Portable Document Format, was created by Adobe Systems in 1993. It is primarily used by many because of its capability to create a print-equivalent document that is readily available on most platforms. The software to view the files is also freely available on most platforms.


Accessibility, as defined by the International Standard Organization (ISO), is “the usability of a product, service, environment, of facility by people with the widest range of capabilities”. The concept of usability, on the other hand, is “the extent to which a product can be used to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use”.

What this means is, PDF Accessibility is the process of making sure a PDF File is accessible to most, if not all, assistive tools like screen readers, text-to-speech software, speech recognition software, alternative input devices, braille embossers and braille displays to make sure that the file can also be used by people with disabilities.

To make sure a PDF file is optimized for accessibility, Adobe provided a list of characteristic which they think will make a PDF file accessible. These characteristics includes, but are not limited to:

  • Searchable text;
  • Fonts that allow characters to be extracted to text;
  • Interactive form fields;
  • Other interactive features: buttons, hyperlinks, and navigational aids;
  • Document language (specified);
  • Security that will not interfere with assistive technology;
  • Document structure tags and proper reading order; and
  • Alternative text descriptions.

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