Acrobat Chapter 1: First Steps


When creating an accessible PDF, the easiest way to start is with an optimized source file. When you use the accessibility features in the software of origin, the PDF is mostly done. Only light touch-ups would have to be done for the tags and reading order. Follow these instructions before you send your document, spreadsheet, or presentation to Adobe Acrobat.

Section 1.1: What Elements should my Document, Spreadsheet or Presentation have for a Successful PDF?

  1. Headings should be real headings (no big or bold text)

    1. Go to the Home Tab.

      Home Tab in Microsoft Office Word with a blue underline.
    2. Click a Heading Style in the Styles Group.

      Styles Section in Microsoft Word. Heading 1 is highlighted with gray borders.
  2. Lists should be real lists (not just items with an asterisk).

    1. Click the Home Tab.

    2. Click Paragraph Group and select a List Style.

  3. Real Table of Contents based on heading structure should be created.

    1. Click the References Tab.

    2. Click the Table of Contents button, then click the style of the table.

  4. Real Footnotes and Endnotes should be made using the Insert Tool.

    1. Click the References Tab.

    2. Insert Footnote or Insert Endnote.

  5. Real Column should be created. You should not be using the Tab key.

    1. Click the Layout Tab.

    2. Go to the Page Setup Section, and click Columns.

  6. Tables should be real tables.

    1. Go to the Insert Tab

    2. Click the Table Button, and select the number of rows and columns needed. Do not use the Draw Table option.

Section 1.2: Semantic Headings

Overview: Headings are made for the purpose of breaking up content. Another use is making information easier to find. Screen readers start reading a document by reading off the headings. The purpose of this is to learn what the content is in the document.

All headings should:

  • Have Semantic Headings (No big or bold text).

  • Start at Heading Level 1. (The biggest heading type).

  • Not skip levels. (Level 1 comes first, then 2, then 3).

  • Have a good outline of a documents hierarchy.

  • Be accurate.

Headings provide readers with an outline of a document. Users can jump from between headings and can see what is in the document without having to read it all. Headings have six levels of tags. <H1> through <H6>. These tags are important because they establish part of the hierarchy. An <H1> tag should always be above the rest of the heading tags. An <H6> tag is always the lowest heading tag. Heading 1 level tags are always labeled with a name for a section or sometimes a title. The lower heading tags are for sections within a section. Hence the importance of the hierarchy.

Section 1.3: Fonts

  • Keep all text fonts readable (use fonts like Verdana and Times New Roman).

  • Line spacing should be at least 1.5 within paragraphs.

  • Paragraph spacing is at least 1.5 times larger than the line spacing.

  • Text is never fully justified.

Fully justified text causes unneeded spacing between words.

Everything is more organized and words are equally spaced.

Section 1.4: Alternative Text

Alt text provides a description of images, graphs and charts, and other non-text content. Screen readers by default, cannot read these objects to a reader. If a screen reader scanned an image, without an alt text, the image would be skipped over. Alt text gives the screen reader the ability to read a description of the object to the reader. This is especially helpful to users who are blind or have low vision.

  1. Go to the Insert Tab, find the Illustrations Panel and select Pictures.

  2. Insert your photo. Then, in less than 150 characters, explain what the photo is.

Section 1.5: Color Contrast

  1. Open your document, spreadsheet, or presentation

  2. When typing in text, you want to consider the color contrast between the text and the background. For small text, (under size 18), a good contrast ratio is 7:1 or higher. For bigger text, (over size 18) a good contrast ratio is 3:1 or higher. Black text on a white background or 21:1 is considered to be the most accessible contrast ratio.

  3. To color your text, highlight your text and go to the Font Section in the Home Tab.

  4. Select the Font Color Tab and choose a color.

  • Links are correctly designated in MS Word. This occurs when you type a URL and hit Enter or Space. The link becomes clickable and a blue color and underline appear.

    • You can create a URL that is not a link, but only if it is being used as an example.

  • Links need to be visible from the surrounding text.

    • MS Word default works well (color change plus underline).

  • Link text is meaningful and not vague or generic.

Learn more

Vague Link

SUNY Fredonia Homepage

Section 1.7: Tables (With Help from Microsoft Word)

Make sure that the tables are real tables.

  1. Click the Insert Tab.

  2. Click Table and select the number of rows/columns needed.

  3. Do not use the Draw Table Option.

Section 1.8: Headers, Footers, and Page Numbers

Page headers and footers help make content easier to follow by providing repeated information in a consistent and predictable way. The content of headers and footers varies widely but can include:

  • Document title

  • Current chapter or section in the document

  • Page numbers, such as "Page 3 of 12"

  • Author

  • Date

  • Document version

You can provide page headers and footers by structuring them directly in the authoring tool. However, once you convert to PDF, headers and footers will not be tagged. They will be invisible to screen readers unless you then tag them.

There is no special tag for Document Header or Footer. These content items should be tagged as either Paragraphs or Artifacts, depending on the situation.

For example, you might have a company name as the header on all pages. A user wouldn’t want to hear this info redundantly. So you could mark the first instance of it as a Paragraph and all others on subsequent pages as Artifacts. Or you might have a title page that contains all of the info from the header and footer. In this case, you could mark the header and footer on all pages as Artifacts.

On the other hand, you might have page numbers in the footer. A user would want to hear them to know where they are in the document. To do this, mark these as Paragraphs.

It boils down to this:

  • Tag meaningful information as paragraphs

  • Tag redundant information as artifacts

Section 1.9: Adding Headers and Footers

  1. Click the Edit PDF Tool and select Header & Footer.

  2. The Add Header and Footer Panel will appear. It will give you options to change your fonts, margin sizes, and add text for your headers or footers.

  3. If you want your PDF page numbers to be visible, click Insert Page Number. If you want to add a date to your header or footer, click Insert Date.

  4. Make changes until you are satisfied with the results.