PDF Accessibility with Adobe Acrobat


PDFs are a very useful type of document because they lock formatting and text in place. However, they can present an accessibility challenge if they are not properly designed or edited. This article will focus on editing an existing PDF or a new scan of existing material.

The easiest way to check and see if a PDF is accessible is to attempt to highlight text in the file. Open the PDF (with Adobe Acrobat, a web browser like Google Chrome, or in a preview on your device), click and hold next to a word, then attempt to drag your mouse over the line of text to highlight it. If you are able to highlight the text one letter at a time, that is a good sign that the PDF meets accessibility requirements.

If you are able to highlight text in a PDF, that is thanks to Optical Character Recognition (OCR). It is a straightforward process to use the OCR tool in Adobe Acrobat, thus resolving inaccessibility issues. This process is described below. 

Keep in mind that OCR accuracy is dependent on the quality of the original source PDF. If the source PDF is low quality (for example, a picture of a textbook or a document that has been scanned multiple times over the years), OCR may not be able to accurately determine individual characters. Using a quality source document, which Library Services may be able to assist you in acquiring, is crucial. 

Making an Existing PDF Accessible Using OCR

  1. Ensure that you have access to Adobe Acrobat for desktop.
    1. To gain access, you can visit the Adobe Acrobat home page (make sure to log in with your SJU credentials) and click "Get Desktop App" in the top right-hand corner. 
  2. Once you have opened the Adobe Acrobat desktop program, click "See All Tools" (pictured below).
    1. Adobe Acrobat for desktop home page. "See All Tools" is circled.
  3. From the "All Tools" menu, under the heading "Convert," choose "Scan & OCR" (pictured below).
    1. Adobe Acrobat desktop "All Tools" menu with "Scan & OCR" circled in red.
  4. Upload the source PDF file.
  5. From the left-hand menu, under the heading "Recognize Text," choose "In this file." Select your page range, then click "Recognize Text." This process may take several minutes depending on the size of the file.
    1. Adobe Acrobat for desktop; Scan & OCR menu with "In this file" under "Recognize Text" selected.
  6. Once the process is complete, check the document to make sure text can be highlighted one character at a time. If the source PDF was low quality, it may also be necessary to confirm that the words were correctly recognized.
  7. Click the Save icon at the top right-hand side of the document. It may be helpful to add "OCR" to the file name to keep track of which copy of the file is accessible.


If you have any questions, please contact the Technology Service Center at 610.660.2920.

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Article ID: 145397
Wed 4/19/23 4:21 PM
Wed 4/19/23 4:21 PM