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David’s best recipe for getting from your Word file to accessible PDF

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Finally! Starting this past month, Office for Mac finally has all the same features as Office for Windows. Which makes this all the more timely:

Of all the recipes I’m asked to share, whether in one of our accessibility courses or while a client prepares PDF files for us to help make more accessible, I think the recipe I’m asked to share most often is how to get from Word to PDF. And it’s understandable: there are so many paths and options, it can be bewildering for someone trying to create PDF files that are accessible for people living with disabilities. Of all the accessible PDF recipes we’ve developed (InDesign, Office, LiveCycle/Adobe AEM Forms, GoogleDocs…) this one’s the most frequent request. So here it…

David’s Word for Windows to PDF exporting recipe (for all versions of Word for Windows plus the latest versions for MacOS … the later versions can give slightly better results)

Optional first step, if you’d like to improve your Word file before making PDF from it: if you have access to Word for Windows 2010, 2013, or 2016/365, choose File> Info> Check For Issues> Check Accessibility … then fix all errors you can, and possibly choose to remedy any warnings.

Note: You’ll get better results if you have Acrobat Pro installed on the computer that is running Word for Windows (You’ll know it is installed because Word will include an “Acrobat” ribbon). We have one recipe for those who have Adobe Acrobat Pro installed and another for those who do not. The main reason that the first recipe is better for you is because if changes need to be made to the file someday, it’s more likely we’ll be able to fix the accessible PDF file rather than having to start again from scratch. It also may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to an accessible PDF.

If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro installed on the same computer as Word

  1. Open your file in Word for Windows (or Word for Mac 365) as you normally would.

  2. Choose Word’s Acrobat ribbon> Preferences> Settings tab within Word:

    1. Check the Enable Accessibility And Reflow With Tagged PDF checkbox

    2. Check the Enable Advanced Tagging checkbox (in Word 2010 or earlier, this setting is on the Word tab instead)

    3. Choose the Advanced Settings button> and go to the Fonts section

      1. Check the “Subset Embedded Fonts When Percent…” checkbox, then set it to 1%.

      2. Locate the Never Embed list, and remove all entries from within it.

  3. In Word’s Acrobat ribbon> choose the Create PDF command (and leave the check the Enable Advanced Tagging checkbox checked), and send us the resulting PDF file (as well as your Word files and your fonts if you can, in case we need them… we won’t alter your Word files in any way: but having them sometimes help us produce a better product for you.)

If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat Pro installed on the same computer as Word (or the above procedure is crashing for any reason, such as due to use of Type 1 fonts)

  1. open your file in Word for Windows as you normally would.

  2. choose Save As PDF, and send us the resulting PDF file (as well as your Word files and your fonts if you can, in case we need them… we won’t alter your Word files in any way: but having them sometimes help us produce a better product for you.)

If I have an accessible Word file already (i.e. it passes the Office Accessibility Checker and is otherwise structured according to accessibility standards), and I export it to PDF following the Berman best practice recipe for exporting from Word to PDF, do I now have an accessible PDF file?

Sorry: no. It is very possible that there is not much work left to do in order to make the file into an accessible PDF file (i.e. a file that meets or exceeds compliance standards such as PDF/UA, WCAG 2.0 AA, or AODA).

However, there is always some nerdy work that remains to be performed on the resulting PDF using Acrobat Pro (or some other PDF-processing software). In summary, here’s what you’d do next: Within Acrobat Pro, run the Make Accessible Wizard: Go to Acrobat Pro> Tools> Action Wizard> Make Accessible Wizard> “Set Open Options” and “Set Tab Order Property”. Then, for PDF/UA compliance (or for a simply more accessible file), use Acrobat Pro to add a Document tag as the root element above Sect, fix any other remaining issues detected by PAC 2.0 (which could be few to many, depending upon the complexity of the file) … and then turn on the PDF/UA identifier.

Anything we’ve missed? What recipe would you like us to share next?

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Reviewed February 12, 2018


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