PDFs have become a huge part of our everyday lives. They were developed by Adobe Systems with a specific purpose: to create a document format that people can access and display on any device or operating system. Even though PDFs are all about making documents as accessible as possible, many users still forget about the browsing experience of people experiencing some form of disability.

Today’s article is a complete guide that explains everything regarding the importance of content accessibility, focusing on PDF accessibility, it’s definition, and the whole process of creating accessible documents. We are also proud to announce that Flipsnack, our unique publishing platform, implemented Accessibility for all flipbook readers despite the obstacles they often face.

As the first ADA and WCAG-compliant publishing solution on the market, Flipsnack eases the entire process of making your documents accessible with no technical skills required. Keep on reading to discover more about this subject, and check out our VPAT, which describes how our product meets accessibility criteria.

Bridging the gap: why is content accessibility so important?

According to the latest data from Vision Center, 2.2 billion people worldwide are affected by some form of visual impairment, and the World Health Organization states that 1.3 billion experience significant disabilities. While the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established guidelines for online accessibility, over 95.9% of the top global homepages detected WCAG 2 failure. People experiencing disabilities, whether permanent or temporary, still need access to the Internet, PDF files, and any other information the same way everybody else has.

Visual representing percentages related to web accessibility for people with disabilities

Obstacles faced in accessing digital content

Digital accessibility affects people with disabilities differently, depending on how they experience the content. In the following section, we’ll discuss the main types of impairments to better understand these differences and how they can be addressed.

Visual impairments

Proper color contrast, alternative texts for images, and screen reader compatibility are steps toward making content accessible for the approximately 2.2 billion people affected by blindness, decreased vision, or color blindness

Hearing impairments

Closed captioning, transcripts for audio or video content are essential for 1.5 billion people living with hearing loss or deafness.

Motor impairments

Keyboard navigation, single-switch access devices, and increased reaction time improve content accessibility for 12.1 % of Americans experiencing physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or arthritis.

Cognitive, learning, and neurological impairments

Clear and consistent navigation, plain language, good color contrast, and avoiding blinking or flashing content help around 200 million people with dyslexia, ADHD, epilepsy, or autism, among other conditions.

Benefits of accessible web content

Banner with message to unlock the benefits of accessible content with Flipsnack

Before improving digital content accessibility, let’s review the most important benefits of engaging in this practice. Given that it’s the most popular digital format, PDF ADA compliance ensures that the content you create and distribute is accessible, regardless of the reader’s abilities. Inclusive content offers the following benefits:

  • Increased engagement – accessible and user-friendly content attracts bigger audiences, increasing engagement and conversion rates.
  • SEO – accessible content has a better structure that enables search engines to properly index and rank them.
  • Enhanced usability – inclusive WCAG-compliant PDFs or other types of digital content improve navigation for all users whether experiencing a permanent or temporary impairment.
  • Legal compliance – many countries or territories impose laws and regulations regarding digital content accessibility that can result in financial penalties for non-compliant entities.

Why is PDF accessibility important?

An accessible PDF is a functional document that allows people with visual or hearing impairments, as well as other disabilities, to comprehend and navigate content quickly and easily. 

Some of the characteristics of accessible PDFs include searchable text, fonts that allow characters to be extracted to text, interactive labeled form fields, alternative text descriptions for non-text elements, use of color combinations that provide a sufficient degree of contrast, and so on.

Visual representation of PDF accessibility with a woman browsing an accessible content on her laptop

Why should we create ADA-compliant PDFs? Many people with visual, mobile, or cognitive impairments find reading and navigating different documents difficult. Approximately 16% of the world’s population lives with some form of significant disability, an increase from 2011. Based on that, this percentage might grow further as the years progress, but we cannot be certain as data is difficult to gather and process while the field of study is still developing. Still, as people advance in age, more and more will face some forms of disabilities, for instance, visual or auditory impairments. They will start to rely on screen readers, screen magnifiers, or audio transcripts that will read their documents. 

That said, it’s important to start creating accessible content, as everyone deserves equal access to knowledge and information. Before we discuss some of the most popular tools for making content accessible, we’ll examine the critical components of accessible PDFs to configure for people with disabilities to access them. 

1. Screen reader compatibility

Screen readers analyze the underlying structure of a PDF file to understand its contextual relevance. Elements such as headings, paragraphs, lists, tables, and links must be tagged otherwise screen readers won’t understand their context.

2. Searchable text

Finding specific words or phrases with a simple search significantly simplifies the reading experience for people relying on assistive technologies.

3. Alt text

Text descriptions for images relevant to the text (not decorative) allow all readers to understand their purpose. Similarly, avoid background images or watermarks as they make it difficult for screen readers to distinguish the text.


Bookmarks can improve navigation for those who want to reach a specific document section without scrolling through lengthy PDFs.

5. Tables

Screen readers read content from left to right, requiring tables to follow this essential rule. Similarly, split rows or columns can result in a back-and-forth between pages for the information to be understood.

While many tools can help improve content accessibility for this article, we’ll focus on the most popular digital content creation tools and explain how they can be used. Let’s start with the first one.

How to make a PDF ADA-compliant

visual representing an ADA compliant PDF

If you’ve ever wondered how to make a PDF ADA compliant in Adobe, then you know it’s not an easy job. Here is a short, step-by-step guide that explains how to make PDF accessible in Adobe:

1. Consider accessibility before you convert a document to PDF

When creating the source file, ensure it has alt text, proper structure and formatting (headings, paragraphs), and optimized tables tagged accordingly. When converting it into ADA-compliant PDFs, it will retain these attributes.

2. Add fillable form fields and descriptions

For fillable forms like buttons, checkboxes, pop-up menus, and text boxes, select Tools -> Accessibility -> Run Form Field Recognition to detect and make form fields interactive or fillable. Include their description in the Tooltip box from the Properties dialogue so screen readers can read them aloud.

3. Ensure adequate color contrasting

Increase content accessibility through sufficient contrast between text and background while also limiting background images of watermarks that can make it harder to differentiate texts from images.

4. Choose accessible fonts and formatting

Avoid using fonts that are difficult to read, and ensure that text formatting is consistent throughout the document. Proper headings should go from biggest to smallest, and blocks of text should be paragraphs for screen readers to understand them contextually.

Through the text, links should be positioned on the text that describes their purpose and destination so users of assistive technology can navigate content more easily and decide which resource to research further.

6. Define PDF language

Tagging the proper language in PDFs helps screen readers identify the correct language. Otherwise, texts can be misinterpreted, leading to confusion for readers.

Remember that these stages are presented in an order that suits most needs. Nonetheless, feel free to perform them in a different order. When done, check PDF accessibility through AccessibilityChecker or AccessiBe and implement the necessary changes.

How to create accessible documents in Word

Visual representing an accessible Word document

Creating accessible documents in Microsoft Word is a fundamental step towards ensuring your PDFs are accessible, especially for visually impaired users. The following section emphasizes the importance of preparing your document with accessibility in mind rather than attempting to retrofit these features during the PDF conversion process. Let’s explore how to use Word to develop accessible content so that you provide inclusive content for all readers.

1. Structured headings

Structured headings are not merely an organizational tool; they are essential for users who rely on screen readers and Braille devices. By employing a logical hierarchy of headings—Heading 1 for the main title followed by Heading 2, Heading 3, and so forth for sections and subsections—we create a navigable document for all users.

2. Effective list usage

Using ordered (numbered) and unordered (bulleted) lists is crucial for clarity. Lists structured with Word’s built-in tools are readily interpreted by screen readers, enhancing the document’s navigability and understandability.

Hyperlinks should provide clear, descriptive information about their destination. This practice is not only about usability but also about accessibility. Including meaningful text for hyperlinks aids users in understanding the link’s purpose without needing additional context.

4. Alternative text for images

Alternative text descriptions are vital for conveying the content and function of images to users who cannot see them. By providing detailed, descriptive Alt Text, we ensure that all users can appreciate the content of images within the document.

5. Language identification

Correctly identifying the document’s language is essential for screen readers to interpret and vocalize the text accurately. This involves specifying the default language and marking any sections in a different language appropriately, thereby accommodating a diverse range of users.

6. Accessible tables

Creating accessible content through tables requires a mindful approach, particularly given Word’s limitations. By simplifying table structures and ensuring column headers are clearly identified and repeated across pages, we can make tables more navigable for screen reader users.

7. Exporting to accessible PDFs

The final step in the document creation process involves converting Word documents into PDFs without losing accessibility features. By following specific guidelines for PDF conversion, we can ensure that the document remains accessible to all users.

In the digital age, accessibility cannot be an afterthought. By applying these methods, we can create documents that are not just accessible but also inclusive, ensuring that everyone has equal access to information.

PDF Accessibility – How can Flipsnack help you

Why, you may ask, is Flipsnack relevant to our discussion on accessibility? Flipsnack, as a versatile publishing platform, is committed to inclusivity, enabling users to effortlessly create, download, share, and embed various types of publications. Recognizing the importance of accessibility, Flipsnack implemented Accessibility features and simplified the process, offering two distinct methodologies to make your content fully accessible. Let us examine these approaches in detail.

How to make your PDF accessible in Flipsnack

If you already have a PDF you want to make accessible, follow this tutorial.

  1. First, you must create a Flipsnack account and then upload your PDF. 
  2. By going into Editor mode and using our intuitive Design Studio, you can implement various interactions, such as go-to-page links, external links, and multimedia elements, to enhance reader engagement and accessible navigability.
  3. Click on the Share now button, choose a title and a description for your flipbook, select its visibility, and then hit Publish.
  4. Now you can go into Customization mode. You’ll notice the Accessibility feature in the list on the left side panel. Click on it and you’ll activate the Accessibility feature.Visual representation of how to activate Accessibility feature in the Flipsnack platform
  1. Once this feature is activated, you can fill in a Title and a Description for every page you want to make accessible by going into Edit text
    visual representation of editing process of accessibility feature in Flipsnack
  2. Save your changes and share your ADA-compliant PDF turned into a flipbook with your audience.

So, what exactly happens when you enable the Flipsnack Accessibility feature? Activating this feature ensures that all readers, including those with visual, auditory, or motor disabilities, can access and navigate publications seamlessly. Upon opening a PDF converted to a flipbook, users will notice an accessible icon situated in the top left corner, marking the provision for enhanced accessibility.

visual representation of accessible flipbook with focus on the accessibility button

Once they click the Accessibility icon, the reader’s flipbook will look different. The text you added to your page description will appear in a side box, which is shown separately. This is how it should look:

visual representation of how an accessible flipbook is experienced by someone benefiting from the accessible feature

The screen reader app will understand the text you’ve written and read it out loud. Additionally, navigation is made accessible through intuitive keyboard navigation of clearly labeled elements. Screen readers read section names aloud to improve contextual understanding of the document in its entirety.

How to create accessible content in Flipsnack

If you don’t have a PDF you want to upload or prefer the create from scratch method, here you’ll have a short guide for this scenario. The first steps differ from the other approach, so we’ll only cover those here. There’s no need to repeat the last one.

  1. Create a Flipsnack account, then select the create from scratch method.
  2. You can choose a template to populate with your content, or you can create one that fits your exact needs.
  3. Enhance it with interactions, then hit the Share now button. 
  4. Insert a title and a description for your flipbook, select its visibility, and then click on Publish.
  5. You’ll notice the Accessibility feature in the list on the left side panel, and you know what happens from here.

So, are flipbooks accessible? To make things easier for you, we’ve decided to create a flipbook and enable the Accessibility feature. Maybe it would help you better understand how this feature works in Flipsnack. Feel free to use it as a source of inspiration:

Screen readers that help you enable Accessibility

While Flipsnack can transform text documents into accessible flipbooks, for the Accessibility feature to work, your readers will also need to use or install a screen reader app to read the information you’ve added out loud. As Flipsnack doesn’t have a predefined plugin or software to read such material, we’ll help you find the most suitable one.

Mac computers have the VoiceOver feature enabled as a standard screen reader, which allows users with visual disabilities to control their computers through their keyboards. 

If you’re a Windows user of Windows 10 or 11, you can use the built-in Narrator app. As a plus, the Narrator app can also work with Braille displays. Otherwise, you can install separate software, such as JAWS or NVDA, to enable accessibility on your computer. They both work perfectly fine. You’ll just have to decide which one you prefer more.

Conclusion: Simplifying PDF Accessibility

Our guide delved into the importance of making content accessible, with a special emphasis on PDFs. We’ve seen how tools like Word and Adobe play their role. Still, we’ve seen how Flipsnack works as a key platform that easily creates accessible flipbooks for everyone, including individuals with disabilities.

Accessibility is more than just compliance with ADA and WCAG guidelines—it’s about opening the digital world to everyone. From adding detailed descriptions and labeled elements to ensuring compatibility with screen readers, Flipsnack is at the forefront of this inclusive revolution.

visual representation of banner for Accessibility with text "Create accessible content with interactive flipbooks! Start now"

We’re committed to breaking down barriers and constantly enhancing Flipsnack with new features to improve accessibility. Stay with us on this journey and discover upcoming AI-generated summaries for Accessibility meant to simplify accessibility implementation even more. We strive to optimize accessibility functions further and make every digital content piece universally accessible, ensuring no one is left behind in the digital age.

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