[Tex/LaTex] A guide on how to produce accessible PDF files


First: I know that this has been asked before:

There has been a couple of questions closed about accessibility and LaTeX since these questions.

I am also aware of Ross More's paper from 2009 and his presentation from 2010.

The question is still: Is possible to make PDF files that are accessible using LaTeX?

I understand that one can disagree on what accessible means. Different countries/regions will have different (legal) definitions. I am interested in how accessibility is understood in different countries, but for this question my main concern is the US context. Here I believe that Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)/Section 508 is what defines what accessible content is. More concretely, I am thinking being able to read the PDF file using a screen reader (like JAWS). Concretely the desire is to create pdf files that can be used in a class setting at a university where federal law requires that content is accessible. This is a real concern (see for example this).

The standard way to check whether a pdf file is accessible seems to to use Adobe Pro's accessibility checker. This can, for example, reveal whether a document is tagged. But it also seems like one needs to actually test it with a screen reader to make sure that everything is as desired.

Right now using pdfLaTeX and checking with Adobe Pro's accessibility checker I in general get two errors:

  • the page lacks a language specification and
  • there are no tags.

I am hoping that there has been some development over the last two years on this. Even though I use LaTeX frequently, I still consider myself a casual user. Answers in the past seem to point out that there are ways to do this, but I haven't been able to find a user friendly guide written in English. I have checked some document where text is read by a screen reader, but the problem seems to be the mathematics content.

From what I can understand it isn't possible to create a truly accessible PDF file. If this is true, I am wondering:

Question: What is the current best practice is to create accessible PDF files? Are there are user friendly guides available?

I am also aware of this answer (from 08/2014):


Here it is pointed out in the comments that the created PDF file doesn't pass the accessibility checker in Adobe Pro. Also, one actually has to edit the .sty file that is used. (I still think it is a great answer!) Also, this file might have been created for a German context (but might still have international use?)

Best Answer

It seems the answer was hiding in a footnote of this paper on making ADA compliant PDFs. See this project!

UPDATE: Having spent time attempting to use this tool in conjunction with a complex custom class, I want to temper expectations. While the accessibility.sty package is a useful tool for simple documents, it is incompatible with multiple packages and commands. An improved version of the package, called accessibility_meta, is available here.

Even the updated package is not perfect. For example neither work with the package "fancyhdr" nor with simple commands like "\setlist".

UPDATE 2: The accessibility.sty package is now on CTAN, but still has issues.

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