Making an accessible paper

ACM publications are read (and reviewed) by many people. Making your paper accessible will help to promote the equal participation of people with disabilities in science and engineering. This note describes how to check if your PDF is accessible, and how to fix the most common accessibility problems. For more information please refer to Adobe’s accessibility resource centre.

How do I test if my PDF is accessible?

  1. The document should be tagged. In Adobe Acrobat Pro: Go to the ‘File’ menu. ‘Document properties’. ‘Description’ tab. Look for ‘Tagged PDF: Yes’ among the set of advanced properties. If you do not have access to Adobe Acrobat, try selecting some text in the PDF and pasting it into a text editor. If you can’t do this, or the text looks wrong, chances are your document is not readable with a screen reader.
  2. Check the accessibility. In Adobe Acrobat Pro: Go to the ‘Advanced’ menu. ‘Accessibility’. ‘Full Check’. The checker will report accessibility problems.
  3. Fonts should be embedded, or your PDF will need to be regenerated, and you may lose accessibility that you have added. In Adobe Acrobat Pro: Go to the ‘File’ menu. ‘Document properties’. ‘Fonts ‘tab. All of the fonts should have the word ‘embedded’ in parentheses after the font name (unless they are not visible in the final document).

How do I fix accessibility problems?

Word users should correct as many problems as possible in the Word source file rather than the pdf, as described in the next section. LaTeX users will need to edit the PDF directly using Adobe Acrobat. A better basic PDF may be produced by using latex2pdf as opposed to ps2pdf. See also the WebAim PDF Accessibility primer which provides information for OpenOffice users.

The accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro provides help with fixing many accessibility problems. The following steps are for Adobe Acrobat Pro 7. A more up to date resource (for Acrobat Pro 11) can be found at the Accessible PDF Author Guide by SIGACCESS. Please see Adobe’s best practices for detailed instructions covering more versions of Adobe Acrobat.

  1. Add tags. Go to the ‘Advanced’ menu. Select ‘Accessibility’, then ‘Add tags to document’.
  2. Add alternative text for figures. Context-click the Figure, select ‘Properties’, and fill in ‘Alternate Text’.
  3. Specify the document language. Go to the ‘File’ menu. Select ‘Document Properties’, then the ‘Advanced’ tab, ‘Language’ field. In some versions of Acrobat, the sequence is ‘File’, ‘Properties’, ‘Reading Options’, ‘Language’.
  4. Define tab order.
    1. Go to the ‘View’ menu. Select ‘Navigation tabs’, then ‘Pages’.
    2. Click on any page, then type Ctrl-A (or Command-A on a Mac) to select all the pages.
    3. Go to the ‘Options’ menu in the top right of the dialog box, and select ‘Page Properties’
    4. In the ‘Tab Order’ tab, select ‘Use document structure’.
  5. Make sure tables have headings.
    1. Go to the ‘View’ menu. Select ‘Navigation tabs’, then ‘Tags’.
    2. Select the ‘Tags’ tab. This panel shows the document structure as a tree.
    3. Navigate to the table cells that should be headers.
    4. Check they have the type <TH>. If not, then right click on the header cell, select ‘properties’, select the ‘Tag’ tab, and change the value for ‘Type’ to <TH>.

To create a more fully accessible document, you should also check the reading order and remove artefacts. For more information look for online tutorials such as this accessible PDF tutorial from Ohio State University.

Creating an accessible PDF directly from Word

Microsoft Word users should follow these steps to produce a source document that will translate automatically into a more accessible pdf. DO NOT USE PRINT TO PDF.

  1. Start from the ACM template.
  2. Use the styles provided (header, body text, caption).
  3. Add an alternate text description for all figures. Right click the image, select ‘Format picture’, the select the ‘Web’ tab. (In Word 2007, right click the image, select ‘Size’, then the ‘Alt text’ tab).
  4. Specify metadata with the ‘File’ menu ‘Properties’ option, in the ‘Summary’ tab.
  5. Go to the ‘Adobe PDF’ menu. Select ‘Change conversion settings’. (In Word 2007, select the ‘Acrobat’ tab on the ribbon, then ‘Preferences’). A dialog box showing the PDF conversion settings should appear.
  6. Select the following options:
    1. Settings. Add bookmarks to Adobe PDF
    2. Settings. Add links to Adobe PDF
    3. Settings. Enable accessibility and reflow with tagged Adobe pdf
    4. Security. Enable text access for screen reader devices
    5. Word. Convert cross references and table of contents to links
    6. Word. Convert footnote and endnote links
    7. Word. Enable advanced tagging
    8. Bookmarks. Convert Word headings to bookmarks
    9. Settings. Advanced Settings. Fonts. Embed all fonts
  7. When you generate the PDF, use the ‘Adobe PDF’ menu’s ‘Convert to PDF’ option (In Word 2007 use ‘Save As Adobe PDF’).

The Wearable Web

May 18-20, 2015 - Florence, Italy

Important dates
» March 4 — notifications
» March 13 — camera ready deadline
» April 1 — early registration ends


Intuit will award $2000 and $1000 to the best technical and communication papers

Google will sponsor 6 PhD students to participate in the W4A Doctoral Consortium

IBM will provide travel grants to the winners of the PwD Student Award

The Paciello Group will give the Judges' and Delegates' awards to the winners of the Accessibility Challenge

ACM SIGWEB sponsors the after-dinner "William Loughborough" keynote

ABILITY Magazine will highlight the winners of awards in a special editorial