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About PDFs

PDF (.pdf) is simply a file type, just like .txt, .xlsx, or .docx.  PDF stands for Portable Document Format.

PDF files typically start as another document type, such as a Microsoft Word document, and are then exported or saved as a PDF.  There are then two files containing the same content - a Word document (.docx) and a PDF (.pdf).  Many files found on the web are PDFs.  They are used for many reasons:

  • Preserve the layout and content of the file.  A PDF will appear the same for any user, regardless of the device used - PC, Mac, tablet, phone, etc.
  • Ensure all users can view the file.  If the file is a Word document (.docx), users on a Mac, tablet, or phone may not have Microsoft Word on their device, and will be unable to view the file.  Most web browsers have the ability to view PDF files without the need for additional software.
  • A more professional presentation.  Presenting content as a Word document (.docx) forces users to open the file in Word, allowing them to edit content and see the markup of the file.  Presenting it as a PDF, however, provides the "finished product", with no backend visible.
Adobe Acrobat is simply a piece of software used to create and edit PDFs.  Users can create and view PDFs completely without Acrobat.

Ensure the Accessibility of PDFs

PDF files typically start as another document type, such as a Microsoft Word document, and are then exported as PDFs.  Ideally, document accessibility should begin there.  Many things can be done to support accessibility in the source file, such as adding alternative text for images; defining structural headings, lists, and data tables; and providing a document language.

Create Accessible PDFs (Microsoft)
Learn how to use Microsoft Office to create documents that can be saved as a more accessible PDF.


Whether or not you have access to a source file, Adobe Acrobat can be used to assist with PDF accessibility.

PDF Accessibility Overview
Learn the characteristics of accessible PDF files, such as searchable text, navigational aids, and a proper title.

Acrobat Pro Accessibility Checker
User Acrobat's built-in checker, which provides a guided, step-by-step approach to fix accessibility issues.

Create and Verify PDF Accessibility
Learn the Acrobat tools that make it easy to create accessible PDFs and check the accessibility of existing PDFs.