Comparison: LibreOffice or Microsoft Office for accessible PDF

Accessible documents can be created with both Microsoft Office and LibreOffice. Both Office packages can also save accessible, i.e. tagged, PDFs. In this post I would like to compare the individual functions.

Note: This article is based on my own experience and on the official instructions from the providers. It may well be that there are functions that I am not aware of. I'm primarily going to talk about Word and Writer here.

So far, none of the Office packages can generate PDF-UA-compliant documents without an external extension.

The first section deals with functions that both programs offer. The second part deals with special features of the programs.

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Format templates are fundamental to accessible documents. We find these in both LibreOffice and Microsoft Office. They are used to store structural information such as headings, lists or paragraphs.

Image descriptions

Also in both packages we find the possibility to create image descriptions for the blind. MS Office is offering automatic image descriptions since 2016. Since Office 2019 it has been possible to make decorative images invisible to the blind. This makes sense for logos and similar images.

language and metadata

Metadata such as author and title can be stored in both packages. The language of the text and of text passages can also be specified so that blind persons can read them in the correct language.


In general, the reflow mode in exported PDFs works with both Office packages. However, MS Office has had a bug since version 2013 at the latest: The reflow mode does not work on pages in which a graphic has been inserted. However, reflow mode isn't part of the official PDF standard, so it's less relevant.


LibreOffice and Microsoft Office since 2019 can export bookmarks. MS Office still can't do that. The bookmarks are displayed in Acrobat Reader on the left side as an always visible and convenient table of content. This is useful for long documents.

Checking function

One advantage of Microsoft Office is the check function that has been integrated since Office 2010. It can identify accessibility issues in the document. This is of course great for problems that can be detected automatically.

Tagged PDFs

Both Office packages can transfer the structural information mentioned above into the PDF.


This section is about special features of LibreOffice.

Pros and cons of LibreOffice

The advantage of LibreOffice is that the functions are always in the same place and are not renamed or moved as often as in MS Office.

MS Office

The following is about special features of MS Office.


In Word, a blind-only description can be added to tables. In addition, the first line or column can be marked as a heading line.

Pros and cons of MS Office

Microsoft has continued to develop the functions since Office 2007. There are now automatically generated image descriptions or the option of marking images as decorative. There are also detailed instructions for creating accessible documents on the Internet.

But the disadvantage is just as obvious: For my taste, the tools are too scattered and very difficult to find. After all, in Office 2013, for example, it took three clicks to add alternative text.

In addition, they are often moved or renamed from version to version. The fact that the ribbons are constantly being inflated with functions that 99 percent of users will never need makes Office itself not really accessible.

Another disadvantage of version chaos is that some functions are not available in some versions. For example, the export as tagged PDF did not work for a colleague on the Mac. It should be possible via the cloud, although it is a desktop office. My assistant apparently has a different version of MS Office especially for students, which lacked all the special accessibility options. It remains Microsoft's secret what one thinks of this product policy.

Conclusion: There is no winner

If you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the two Office packages, there is no clear winner. Microsoft is annoying with the high prices and the idiosyncratic product policy. But it offers more accessibility features and is also more widespread. There are also always problems when more complex documents are edited back and forth between Office packages from different manufacturers.

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