Creating Accessible Documents

Why Create Accessible Documents?

Accessibility aims to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities. By creating accessible documents, you are ensuring that your journal content (articles, issues, supplementary materials, media etc.) can be accessed and read by as many people as possible, including individuals using adaptive/assistive technologies.

This page provides guidelines for creating accessible PDFs, so that access to research published in your journal is barrier-free.

How Do You Make a PDF Accessible?

You must first create an accessible Word document and then convert it to a PDF.

Creating an Accessible Word Document

In General:

  • Align body text to left margin
  • Keep body text at 12-14 points, using a sans serif font (Arial, Tahoma, Verdana)
  • Use normal weight fonts instead of bold or lightweight fonts
  • Avoid large amounts of font set in caps, italics, or underlined
  • Use bold fonts to show emphasis, rather than italics or upper-case letters
  • Maintain high contrast between text and background
  • Do not use the “Enter” or “Return” key to create space between paragraphs. Instead, change the spacing with format tools
  • Avoid Word text boxes


  • Use Word Styles and Headings if organizing a document into sections
  • Use the “Columns” feature to create columns of text, rather than using the spacebar and tabs
  • Insert tables with the “Insert Table” command

Alt Text

Alternative text (Alt text) appears when a user moves their cursor over an image or object. It describes an image so that in situations where a user cannot see an image, the text can be read (either by a user or by assistive technology).

Effective Alt Text:

  • Communicates the purpose of an image accurately and succinctly
  • Contributes to a user’s understanding of an image
  • Does not repeat text in a caption
  • Uses punctuation for full sentences

Converting a Word Document > PDF

When converting a Word document to a PDF, there are additional measures that must be taken to ensure that accessibility is retained. The PDF must be tagged with additional information that tells a screen reader how to navigate a PDF.

Windows: Microsoft 2008 and later automatically tags Word documents when they are saved as PDFs.

Mac: Saving a Word document as a PDF leaves it untagged. However, free, open source software like OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and NeoOffice can open Word documents and export them to a tagged, accessible PDF.

Resources for Checking Accessibility

Windows: Recent versions of Word (2010 and later) have a built in accessibility checker. File > Info > Check for Issues

Mac: Word 2016 and on have a built in accessibility checker. Review > Accessibility check

Free, Online Accessibility Checker: Pave

Additional Resources