WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

PDF Accessibility
Converting Documents to PDF


A great deal of effort is often devoted to remediating PDF files with accessibility issues. Most of this work can be avoided by choosing a source document that supports conversion to an accessible PDF. This article focuses on Microsoft Office 365 source documents exported to PDF using Acrobat.

Document Accessibility Online Course

WebAIM offers a four-week online course on Word, PowerPoint, and PDF accessibility.

Source Documents

Not all applications support the creation of accessible PDFs. The following table lists some common applications and the quality of the tags structure that they can export:

Tags Structure Quality
Source Application Good tags structure No/poor tags structure
Adobe Illustrator  
Adobe InDesign  
Google Docs  
Google Slides  
Microsoft PowerPoint  
Microsoft Word  

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office documents keep accessibility information intact when properly converted to PDF. For example, a document created with accessibility in mind in Word should contain almost all the information necessary for an accessible PDF, including:

  • Headings
  • Images
    • Alternative text
    • Decorative images marked
  • Table structure
  • Descriptive links
  • Lists
  • Columns
  • Legible text size
  • Good contrast
  • Document title

After the PDF conversion, some cleanup in Acrobat may still be necessary. Images flagged with "Mark as decorative" in Office 365 will be hidden in the PDF, but this will need to be done manually in older versions of Office. Tables with multiple levels of headers require more significant work (which should encourage creating simpler tables when possible). But these examples are exceptions—other accessibility information should carry over cleanly.

Recreate the source document

When a PDF is untagged, or has an incomplete or incorrect tag structure, it is often best to return to the source document, make the necessary accessibility repairs, and then re-create the PDF. If the source document is unavailable, use Acrobat to convert a PDF back to a Word, PowerPoint, or Excel file to create a new source document. Select File > Export To, then choose the desired format.

You can then make the necessary accessibility changes, then re-export to PDF.

Acrobat PDFMaker in Office

When you install a compatible version of Acrobat on your computer, Adobe also installs an add-in called PDFMaker that adds a tab labeled "Acrobat" to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. PDFMaker allows you to create a PDF without leaving Office.


To create a PDF from Office on Windows, select the Acrobat tab, and click Create PDF.

Screenshot of the Create PDF tool highlighted on the Acrobat tab.

  • If you have Acrobat installed and do not see this tab, see Adobe's troubleshooting article.
  • On Office for Windows, Selecting File > Save as Adobe PDF accomplishes the same thing as using the Acrobat Tab.

A PDF created with the Acrobat tab on Windows is identical to a PDF created directly in Acrobat.


On Mac, the Acrobat tab works correctly in Word and PowerPoint. To convert an Excel file to a tagged PDF, you must create the PDF in Acrobat.

Before creating your first PDF in Word, some setup is required. Click the Preferences button on the Acrobat tab.

Then, check the Prompt for using Adobe Create PDF cloud service checkbox and click OK.

To create a PDF:

  1. Click Create PDF on the Acrobat tab.
  2. The Adobe Create PDF dialog appears. Check the Remember my choice box, and then select Yes. You only have to do this once
  3. Select Open from the dialog that appears.
  4. Save the file after it opens in Acrobat.

Enabling tags in PDFMaker

PDFs created with PDFMaker should be tagged. If they are not, select Preferences from the Acrobat tab.

And check the Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF checkbox.

"Save As" PDF in Office

Saving as a PDF in Office allows you to create tagged PDF files without installing PDFMaker or using Acrobat.


The tagging process is more effective with PDFMaker, so we recommend using Acrobat (or the Acrobat tab in Office) if possible.

"Save As" on Windows

To create a PDF in Office, Select File > Save As. Open the file type menu, select the PDF (*.pdf) file type, and choose Save.

This should create a tagged PDF by default. If it does not, choose More options... before you save the file. A new window appears. Select Options, make sure Document structure tags for accessibility is checked, then save the file.

"Save As" on Mac

On Mac, the "Save As" option only creates tagged PDFs in Word in Office 365. Open the File application menu and select Save As... Under File Format on the dialog that appears, select PDF. Then choose the Best for electronic distribution and accessibility (uses Microsoft online service) radio button, then Export.

If you do not see this option, your program does not support creating tagged PDFs. PowerPoint cannot export a tagged PDF in any version of Office for Mac.


Never create a PDF with the "Print"option in Office, or in any other program. A screen reader user may still be able to access the text of a PDF created in this way, but heading structure, alternative text, and any other tag structure is lost.

Creating PDFs in Acrobat

To create a PDF in Acrobat Standard or Pro, select File > Create > PDF from File.

If you are on Mac, there is an additional step in this process. After selecting the file to convert, check the Use Adobe Create PDF cloud service checkbox, and then click "Open."

Acrobat should remember this selection for future PDFs, but it is probably best to confirm this checkbox is checked every time you create a PDF. PDF files created using Adobe's cloud service may not look identical to the source document.