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Changes to PDFs made by Microsoft Office

Microsoft is making some changes to PDF files made from Microsoft 365 apps to improve accessibility for screen readers.

The announcement is a mix of recent changes with some long-standing features added as if they are also new.  A newer Microsoft PR trick that manages to fool (too) many.

PDF’s on Apple Mac, iPhone, iPad

The  Best for electronic distribution and accessibility export option is now available in Excel and Word on Mac computers and Apple iPhone/iPad.

It’s coming to PowerPoint as well (currently in the Preview channel).

Bookmarks aren’t new

A ‘recent improvement’ according to Microsoft:

“Bookmarks for sections and slides in PowerPoint and headings or bookmarks in Word to help people more easily navigate PDF content.”

These features already exist in Office and have for many years. It looks like another case of Microsoft trying to pass off a long-standing feature as something new.

Word document to PDF

Word’s save to PDF has always had the option of making PDF Bookmarks from either Word headings or bookmarks.

(it’s a little confusing because both Word and PDF have ‘bookmarks’ but the word means different things. In a PDF, bookmarks appear in the side navigation pane.)

PowerPoint to PDF

Saving a PowerPoint deck to PDF already saves both sections and slides to the PDF bookmarks and appear in the Table of Contents in a PDF viewer.

We made this test PDF from PowerPoint 2021 with slides and sections in the ToC (PDF bookmarks), let alone the latest PowerPoint 365.

It’s worth keeping in mind especially for Word to PDF conversions to make sure the PDF bookmarks are made from Headings (which is more common) or Word bookmarks (possible but not as useful).

Behind the PDF improvements

Other changes won’t be noticeable to many people but they are important for making the PDF more accessible to anyone with a screen reader (text to speech).  This is Microsoft’s list:

  • The most suitable tags for Shapes with text, Alt Text, and Equations
  • <Formula> with Alt Text for Equations in Excel and PowerPoint
  • <Figure> with Alt Text for every other type of graphical object
  • Flat <Figure> (no nesting) for SmartArts and Groups in PowerPoint
  • WordArt preserved as text
  • Hyperlinks aren’t nested in <Figure> in PowerPoint
  • Artifact and no tags for Decorative objects, objects on slide master, headers, footers, cell borders, and more
  • Removed unnecessary <Span> and <P> tags
  • <Span> tags for different languages and no Actual Text
  • <THead> and <TH> for table headers
  • Merged table cells have rowspan and colspan in PowerPoint
  • Lists have proper nesting and <Lbl> for the bullet
  • Footnote and Endnote <Link>s
  • <BlockQuote> for Word Paragraph Quote and Intense Quote styles
  • <Quote> for Word Quote style
  • <Title> for Word Title style
  • Heading levels beyond <H6>

Some of those are a little surprising such as <blockquote> <quote> and <title> that many would have thought were already supported.

Accessibility checker

Modern Office already has accessibility checks including a specific one when exporting to PDF from Word or PowerPoint.

This checks the document before it’s saved to PDF format for anything that might make the document or deck harder to read.

Making a PDF from Office – Save or Print?
Make a better PDF from Microsoft Word using the hidden options

Check Accessibility problems as you work in Word, Excel and PowerPoint
Accessibility Checker and document conversion in Office 365

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