The Web Team is NOT responsible for facilitating the accessibility of content created outside of our platform (Drupal). Documents created in applications such as Word, Excel, InDesign, etc., are the sole responsibility of the person and team creating said documents, and they must ensure that these documents are made accessible before uploading them to the website.

While generating a document, e.g., .doc(x), .xls(x), .ppt(x), or .pdf, allows for flexibility, this can come at the cost of accessibility. These type of documents are often not properly formatted for technologies such as screen readers, resulting in content difficult to navigate, out of order, or even completely inaccessible. In order to meet with the Accessibility Guidelines of the school, only documents that have passed the Accessibility Check will be hosted in Drupal.


Before uploading a document consider:

Can the content be copied to a web page instead?

  • Use documents sparingly.
  • Content creators are responsible for ensuring the accessibility of the document.
  • Documents are not responsive and can be difficult to use on mobile devices.
  • Documents can be costly and time-consuming to make accessible.
  • If you must use a document, make it accessible and clearly label it as a PDF, PPT, etc.

Making Documents Accessible

If you're working or planning to work with one of the following platforms, please refer to their respective guidelines to review how you can ensure your content is accessible from the beginning. This will make the process much easier specially when working with long format documents.

Run the Accessibility Check

Microsoft applications allow you to run an accessibility check while creating the document. For everything else you will want to run the check after the file has been exported to a PDF from Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Screencap indicating how to run accessibility check.

How to run accessibility check in Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Can't Find the Accessibility Tool?
1. Go to Tools
2. Find Accessibility
3. Click Add
You will then be able to find it on the Right Hand corner like in the screencap above.

Dealing with Manual Checks

Although Adobe Acrobat is able to identify most Accessibility issues, there are certain cases that can only be determined by a person, these include: These recommendations assume you have ran the Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Check and have the accessibility panel open:

A. Color Contrast

 If you've followed our guidelines on Color, you should be good.

  1. Make sure that the document's content adheres to the guidelines outlined by WCAG in section 1.4.3.
  2. Right Click
  3. Select Pass
  4. The error should now say "Passed".

B. Logical Reading Order

Accessing a document through a screen reader, requires the computer to read through all elements on a page. Depending on how this was built, the order of the elements could be completely different from how it looks. To confirm if the order is correct:

  1. Go to the Tags navigation pane.
  2. Select the first element on the list, and navigate the list of tags(use the arrows in your keyboard to do so).
    • This may require you to open sub elements to see what's inside.
    • This will simulate how a person using a screen reader will access your content
    • As you navigate through the tags, you will see the content highlighted in the screen
  3. Ideally you should see the highlighted elements in the order in which you expect to read them
    • Correct OrderIf the page has a heading followed by a paragraph, then the heading should be highlighted first and then should be followed by a paragraph.

      If the tags are in order, then you can: Right Click and select Pass.

    • Incorrect Order: If the page has multiple paragraphs followed by a table, then it's incorrect for the table to be listed before the paragraphs or for the paragraphs to not be in the correct order.

      If this is the case, then you will have to go back to the source document to make sure it is correctly exported to PDF for Accessibility. If you're working with applications such as InDesign, you may have to reshuffle the order of your layers to match the content.

      If you do NOT have access to the source document, you can change the order of the tags by clicking and dragging each tag until the text is correctly readable. You can then Right Click and select Pass.

Screencap indicating how to manually pass valid cases.

How to pass manually reviewed cases, e.g.: Color Contrast.

Dealing with Most Common Errors

I Have the Source Document

The best solution is to go back to the source file and address the problems from there.

I Don't Have the Source Document

If you no longer have access to the document, there are cases that can be fixed with Adobe Acrobat fairly quickly. However other issues can be much more time consuming or may not even have a fix, in these cases you may have to recreate it.

Keep in Mind: If you have the original document DO NOT make these corrections from the PDF. The next time you make an update to the document or need to generate it again you will have to do these corrections all over again.

Please find below a few of the most common cases. These recommendations assume you have ran the Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Check and have the accessibility panel open:

A. Add Title (Easy)

  1. Right Click
  2. Select Fix
  3. Add the Title
  4. You can also add any additional information such as the Subject, Author, and Keywords.

B. Add Language (Easy)

  1. Right Click
  2. Select Fix
  3. Select the corresponding Language

C. Alternate Text Failed (Medium)

Depending on the number of images, this may be more time consuming. Open the list of items to correct and for each Figure X item

  1. Right Click
  2. Select Fix
  3. Enter the corresponding Alternate Text making sure to follow best practices
  4. Select Save & Close

Screencap indicating how to fix cases such as missing Titles or Language.

How to fix cases such as missing Titles, Language, or Alternate Text.

D. Add Bookmarks (Medium)

Adding Bookmarks will require you to identify the main contents in your document and break it down as you would with a Table of Contents. The process is easy but depending on well organized and how long your document is, this can become rather challenging task very quickly.

  • Manual
    1. Review your content to make sure you can clearly identify the items to bookmark. Remember you're trying to find the headings to add to your Table of Contents.
    2. Select/Highlight the first Heading
    3. Go to the Bookmarks navigation pane on the left
    4. Click the New Bookmark icon
    5. Continue the same process with each subsequent Heading/Bookmark
    6. Once done, you can move the bookmarks around and even create sub-bookmarks to make your Table of Contents more structured.
  • Automatic
    Adobe Acrobat attempts to guess what your bookmarks are based on the content. You can try this approach but be sure to review the Bookmarks tab to make sure it's not excessive as you can end up with dozens of Bookmarks for a single page which will make the experience of users even worse.

E. The Document Contains No Headings (Difficult)

If your document contains headings but they are not appropriately tagged and you're receiving this error, you will need to generate the document again and export it as recommended above.

F. Appropriate Nesting (Difficult)

This error means that you have used headings out of order, for example an H3 before using an H1 and H2. This will need to be corrected by recreating the document or section with the appropriate structure.

G. Tables: Regularity Failed and Missing Headers (Difficult)

Issues with tables are usually caused because they aren't used to display tabular data, instead they are used to help with the layout of the document. These cases can only be addressed by recreating the document. If your table on the other hand was used correctly, then please review the documentation for Tables in Adobe's accessibility page.

H. Others

For all other Accessibility Issues, please refer to the documentation provided by Adobe.

Other Resources

LinkedIn Learning and MyLearning, offers several great courses on this topic:

Additionally, you can keep the following checklist handy to make sure you don't miss a step next time you're creating an accessible document

A warning that may come up in your pdf accessibility check is Color contrast, and you need to select pass/fail. You can use some online tools to check if it will pass.

There are some tips and techniques that you can use for making PDFs accessible 

Web Accessibility courses:

Digital Accessibility Office Hours and other events
Digital Accessibility at JHU

4th Thursday of each month from 1-2 pm for Accessibility Open Office Hours. Accessibility and assistive technology staff will be available to answer questions and provide information and resources to JHU faculty and staff.  

Find Events on Accessibility

Accessibility Support Vendors

If you're still having difficulties making the document accessible, and your budget allows, you can also consider working with vendors specialized in document remediation.

Crawford Technologies

We have worked with Crawford Technologies in the past and they have provided a document outlining their process and contact information. Use the link below to find out how to get started. Find their information below:

Crawford Technologies

WCAG Compliance

A company that provides PDF Remediation services. Find their information below:

WCAG Compliance

More Remediation Services

For more companies that can help you with accessibility services, find their information below.  

Digital Accessibility at JHU list of vendors

For questions or concerns regarding document accessibility, please email