Accessible PDFs and Scans

Accessible PDFs and Scanned Electronic Files

A common challenge in creating accessible learning environments is ensuring that PDFs and scanned documents, such as course readings that are scanned from printed texts, are accessible.

An important characteristic of accessible PDF files is the inclusion of tags, which provide a hidden structured, textual representation of the PDF content that is presented to screen readers. Without these tags, PDFs can present as blank and content-less images to screen readers, and a student who uses a screen reader will then be unable to read the content.

When creating a document that will be converted into a PDF, it is important to ensure that the document is accessible before exporting it as a PDF. Creating an accessible Word document, for example, means providing alternative text for images, proper headings, and clearly identified hyperlinks.

The following resources can guide you in creating accessible, tagged PDFs when you convert any document to a PDF:

Scanned documents and images, unless converted to accessible digital documents, are also unreadable by screen readers. One way to tell if a PDF of a scanned text is actually an image rather than readable text, is to try to copy and paste the text from the PDF into Word. If you are unable to execute that function, then you are working with scanned image of text that is not readable by a screen reader.

The Disability Resource Center works with instructors and affiliated students to ensure that all course documents, including scanned texts, are converted to accessible formats (see Working with the Disability Resource Center to Create Accessible Texts in this guide). If you have questions about accessibility checking and document conversion, the DRC can provide information and guidance (, 831-459-2089)

Additionally, there are online tools and resources that can guide you in converting a range of electronic files into accessible formats. 

Steps to scanning and creating an accessibile document.

A helpful Guidelines to Web Accessibility chart, including directions for creating accessible PDFs, Word documents, and PowerPoint slides, is available online via Portland Community College: