How to create an accessible PDF file from Word (PC or Mac)

Follow these guidelines to add accessibility to your Word file, to then make into an accessible PDF file. What’s “accessible”? It’s a file that most people can read and understand, regardless of their vision level. Mostly, accessibility for electronic content like files means that the color contrast is high so people with low vision can see it, and that the document can be read by programs called screen readers.

Here’s a short list things you need to do in the Word file, and the correct methods to create the PDF file.

Links are provided for further reading and learning.


What to do in the Word file:

  • Use Word’s built-in Heading styles. Learn about using Heading styles.
  • Add alternative text for all images. Right-click the image, choose Edit Alt Text, and then add a short description of the meaning of the image.
  • Use “real” lists (bullet and numbered lists). You can create a list with the buttons on the Home tab in the ribbon, or with styles.
  • Create hyperlinks that are the text of the hyperlink, not the address. For example, use “Go to Google” rather than
  • In tables, always select the Header Row checkbox on the Table Design tab in the ribbon.
  • Use columns when you want the “look” of columns. Don’t use tabs or tables, unless the table has a header row (see previous item).
  • Add a document title in the Document Information (File > Info > Properties > enter a title in the Title field). This should be a short, “dressed for dinner” title.
  • Don’t use empty (extra) paragraphs to add vertical space. Screen readers read these as “blank.” If you need to add extra space, use space before/after in your styles, or manually apply it with the Space Before and Space After values on the Page Layout tab in the ribbon.
    • This tutorial covers this in the second half (you’ll want to check out the space before/after a paragraph, not the line spacing portion, which is space between lines within a paragraph).
  • Use the Accessibility Checker in Word (Review tab > Check Accessibility button). This will alert you to accessibility errors like color contrast and missing alt-text on images.

Create the PDF

How to correctly create the PDF file from Word so the PDF is accessible:

  • If you’re using a Macintosh, choose File > Save As and select PDF from the choices provided. Select the radio button labeled Best for electronic distribution and accessibility.
  • If you’re using a Windows computer:
    • If you have Acrobat Pro / Acrobat DC (not Acrobat Reader), use the PDF Maker feature to create the PDF file. Ensure that Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF is checked in Settings.
    • If you don’t have the Pro/DC version of Acrobat:
      1. Choose File > Save As.
      2. Select Save as Type PDF.
      3. Select Options.
      4. Select all the options under Include non-printing information (Create bookmarks using Headings, Document properties, and Document structure tags for accessibility).
        Save as PDF with accessibility options

Additional instructions