United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Section 508 Support Office

Creating Accessible PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Professional




Welcome to the Creating Accessible PDF Tutorials.


Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Federal agencies to make electronic and information technology (E&IT) accessible to users with disabilities, including:

  • Blindness, color blindness, visual impairment
  • Deafness, hearing impairment
  • Speech impairment
  • Mobility, strength, dexterity or reach impairment

The law includes standards for software applications, operating systems (OS), web-based applications and multimedia. These standards apply to files made available in the portable document format (PDF). PDF is often used as a way to preserve a document’s look and feel across a wide variety of platforms, as well as to add protection against alterations.

Those involved in the design, distribution and use of PDFs are responsible for ensuring that they comply with Section 508, but it may not always be clear how to do so.


The goal of these tutorials is to enable developers and other personnel involved in PDF creation and distribution to apply principles of accessibility to ensure materials are Section 508-compliant, whether the documents are used for official communication, eLearning course content components or other purposes.

These tutorials reference commercial products likely to be familiar to those taking the course. References to commercial product functionality and providers are included to illustrate the application of techniques described, and are not intended as either endorsements or critiques of specific providers or products

PDF Accessibility

For PDFs to be 508 compliant, they need to be tagged. Tagged PDFs allow various assistive technologies (AT) to interact with the content of a document and make sense of it. There is no automated solution for creating accessible PDFs.

The most effective way to begin the process of making a PDF accessible is to create a document directly from an authoring application that produces tagged PDFs, such as Microsoft Word, and then convert it to PDF format.

To complete the process of making a document accessible after conversion, it will usually be necessary to touch up the tagging and reading order. There are a number of software products available to help with this process. They include:

  • Adobe Acrobat
  • NetCentric Technologies CommonLook
  • Nuance PDF Converter

In order to focus on a consistent approach to making PDFs accessible, these tutorials assume that you are using Adobe Acrobat. It produces reliable, accessible results. VA has an Enterprise license for Acrobat Pro so any employee who has a business justification can request that it be installed on their workstation.

While Adobe Acrobat Standard software offers some features for making existing PDF files accessible, Adobe Acrobat Pro software has additional features to allow you to edit reading order and document structure tags for documents with complex layouts, like forms or tables.

Regardless of which software you use, you will need to be sure that your document is structured and tagged correctly.

These tutorials provide step-by-step guidance for using Adobe Acrobat XI Pro to make documents accessible by ensuring that the tagging and reading order are correct, and that other accessibility requirements have been met.

These tutorials are designed so you can navigate through them using the Next and Previous arrow links located at the top and bottom of each page; or, you may jump to a topic of particular interest using the links in the left-hand navigation sidebar.  The entire set of tutorials may be printed by selecting the link at the bottom of the sidebar.

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