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How to create an accessible and archivable PDF from a Word file

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New documents shared in higher education institutes’ e-services must be accessible. Start by making your file accessible already in Word. If the file is stored in an electronic archive used by the university, the file must be accessible and also archivable.

With the correct settings, you can convert a Word file to an accessible and archivable PDF file in one go. There are different PDF versions for different purposes; the archival format is PDF/A.

PDF/A is suitable for long-term storage of files, such as theses stored in Theseus and other archived documents. If you create PDF files for long-term storage with a tool that allows you to select the storage type, select “archivable PDF (PDF/A)”.

The archival format is not suitable for forms intended to be filled in, for example. Archivable documents do not contain interactive components: only a static (stable) document can be archivable. However, a non-archivable PDF can be accessible.

Specify a title for your Word file in its properties already before the PDF conversion

Specify a title for your file in the file’s metadata: Select File (Tiedosto)/Properties (Ominaisuudet) and specify the title in the Title (Otsikko) field. While you are at it, you can also add other things related to the document, such as keywords, to make it easier to find the file later using the search feature of your computer’s resource management. Header data is mandatory in the metadata when creating an archivable PDF of a file.

If you have a PDF file created from a file without header data added in Word, you can add and edit metadata later in Acrobat Pro or Reader, for example. Adding metadata is a good habit to learn.

Saving a DOCX file as an accessible and archivable PDF file

You need a desktop version of Word to create both an accessible and archivable PDF file. A browser version allows you to save an accessible PDF.

In desktop Word (Windows), you can retain the accessibility features in your document and make an archivable file of it by saving it as follows:

  1. Ensure that your Word file is accessible.
  2. Select File (Tiedosto) and then Export (Vie).
  3. Select Create PDF/XPS Document (Luo PDF- tai XPS-tiedosto).
  4. Press the Create PDF/XPS (Luo PDF/ XPS)
  5. In the next view, specify where the file is saved, and give the file a descriptive name.
  6. Press the Settings (Asetukset)
  7. Select at least the Document structure tags for accessibility (Asiakirjan rakenteen tunnisteet helppokäyttötoimintoa varten)
  8. If the document contains multiple pages and headings, also select the Create bookmarks using headings (Luo kirjanmerkit käyttämällä otsikoita) checkbox to create a PDF with a separate clickable table of contents.
  9. Select also the Document Properties (Asiakirjan ominaisuudet) checkbox to include document properties (= metadata) in the PDF.
  10. Select ISO 19005-1 compliant (PDF/A) (PDF/A-yhteensopiva) to save the document in the archival format.
  11. Press OK and then Publish (Julkaise).

There are two different ways to select archivable PDF/A as the save as type depending on whether you have Adobe Acrobat Pro on your computer. Here are instructions for both cases:

Saving an archivable PDF/A file on a computer without Adobe Acrobat Pro

  1. When your document is ready, select File (Tiedosto)/Save a copy (Tallenna kopio).
  2. Next, select the More settings… (Lisää asetuksia…) link below the file type.
  3. In the next view, select PDF as the file type and press the Settings (Asetukset)
  4. In the settings view, select the PDF/A compliant checkbox and press OK. (Note! This option remains the default for saving PDFs in the Word desktop version.)
  5. Press Save to finish.

Saving an archivable PDF/A file on a computer with Adobe Acrobat Pro
 (alternative method)

  1. When your document is ready, select File (Tiedosto), Save as Adobe PDF.
  2. Press the Options button to go to advanced options.
  3. Select the Create PDF/A-1a:2005 compliant file checkbox and press OK. (Note! This option will not remain the default, so you will need to select it separately every time you want to create a PDF using this method.)

How to save an accessible PDF file in Word’s browser version

When you want to create a PDF file from a Word document in Word’s browser version, first create an accessible Word document and then save the document to PDF format in Word by selecting File/Save As/Download as PDF (Tiedosto/Tallenna nimellä/Lataa PDF). (This way, you can save it to PDF while preserving the accessibility. Note, however, that you cannot create a file compliant with the PDF archive standard using this method.)

Checking accessibility in Adobe Acrobat Pro

Acrobat Pro has a more comprehensive accessibility checker tool than Word, so you should use it if you have access to Acrobat Pro.

  1. Open the PDF file to review.
  2. Open the Tools
  3. Open the Accessibility
  4. Select Full Check to have Acrobat check all accessibility issues it can check. Any errors, warnings and remarks should be verified.
  5. Right-click to learn more about the issues and how to fix them. Using the Fix feature allows you to fix many problems in Acrobat. (Note that if the file is in read-only mode, you must first allow editing of the document.)

Usability of scanned PDF files

The basic requirement for an accessible PDF file is that the file contains real text so that it can both be read from the screen and listened to using a screen reader. The easiest way to test this is to select the text, copy it and then try to see if it can be successfully pasted into a word processor program.

A PDF that is a scanned image from a book, for example, is not accessible. You can convert the image to text with the OCR feature in Adobe Acrobat, for example. An image converted to text may be readable by a screen reader, but the reading order must be carefully checked separately. Still, scanned text is displayed as a raster image on the screen, meaning that, unlike real text, it cannot be zoomed in (enlarged) without loss of quality. Therefore, scanned text is not as readable as a file saved in PDF format from real text.

The quality of the image depends on the scanning quality, and reading it can be challenging for the visually impaired. Real text is always a better option than an image because it will be displayed on the screen as a vector graphic that can be zoomed in freely. You can read real text with a screen reader. Note also that you must not encrypt an accessible file so as not to prevent the use of a screen reader.

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