documents from word processing applications (e.g., Microsoft Ofﬁce, etc.) as
well as adding accessibility information to existing PDF documents. Adobe Ac-
robat 8 now provides improvements to zoning and marking text, adding relevant
accessibility information to data tables, and adding tags to existing PDF docu-
Word Processing Applications
Creating accessible PDF documents from word processing applications requires
that content authors include the relevant accessibility information during the
document authoring process. Upon conversion to a PDF version of the docu-
ment, the appropriate accessibility information is then added to the ﬁle and can
be utilized by assistive computer technologies. This is often the easiest method
for insuring access is provided in the PDF version of the document in that it
does not require the author to examine the PDF document separately and make
additional accessibility changes in the PDF version.
Documents that are visually rich in formatting and layout, however, may require
the use of specialized layout and design programs as opposed to word process-
ing applications. While it is possible to accomplish some basic layout and for-
matting in word processing applications, these documents do not always result
in accessible PDF versions automatically. If using word processing applications
to visually layout and design document content, it will be necessary to assess
the PDF version of the document for any accessibility errors.
Strategies for Word Processing Applications
When possible, it is recommended that headings are used to differentiate be-
tween sections of text. For example, the title or name of the document may be
classiﬁed as a Heading 1, whereas a section of content may be classiﬁed as a
Heading 2. Adding headings results in a structured document that provides sev-
eral advantages to users. Individuals using assistive computer technology (e.g.,
screen-readers), would be able to “jump” from heading to heading in the docu-
ment as opposed to listening to every single passage of text in order to get to the
desired content. Similar to a visual user “scanning” the content for the desired
information, the use of headings in a document improves accessibility by allow-
ing for non-linear navigation.
Images provide an opportunity to communicate information in a non-verbal
manner. For individuals who are unable to see or visually process such images,
this can be a barrier to interacting with the document content. Adding a text
description to images is one method to improving the accessibility of the docu-
ment content such that all users can interact with the materials. One challenge
with providing a text description for images is what information should be in-
cluded so as to communicate the relevant content and/or purpose of the image.
Two resources that can provide guidance and direction to creating usable image
descriptions can be found at:
Text Alternatives for Images
Creating Accessible Images
PDF Accessibility with Acrobat 8
Documents created from word processing applications, layout and design pro-
grams, or other applications that do not create accessible PDF versions, will
require additional review and editing of the PDF version in Adobe Acrobat.
The additional time to review and integrate accessibility into the PDF version
is dependent on a variety of factors, including the application used to create the
PDF, the visual formatting and layout complexity of the document itself, and/
or the presence of any interactive features in the PDF version. It is generally
easier to utilize an authoring application that supports the generation of accessi-
ble PDF documents as opposed to making accessibility changes within the PDF
document. However, if the original document is not available or the authoring
tool does not support PDF accessibility, then it is possible to use Adobe Acrobat
to address most accessibility issues in the PDF document.
Basic Workow - AARP
PDF documents that are not tagged are not necessarily inaccessible. However,
if there are any accessibility changes that are needed by the document (e.g.,
change reading order, identify content headings, add descriptions to images,
etc.), then it is necessary to add tags to the PDF document. The following is a
sample workﬂow to consider when addressing PDF accessibility:
Add Tags to the PDF
Assess Logical Reading Order
Repair Content where necessary.
Perform Assessment process again
After assessing the logical reading order of the document, the author can uti-
lize the tools available in Adobe Acrobat to manipulate the reading order of
text, add or remove content from the reading order, add descriptions to images,
reclassify headings, and add accessibility information to data tables. After mak-
ing the appropriate accessibility modiﬁcations to the PDF document, save the
PDF ﬁle and perform the assessment process again to verify the changes are
correct. This is just one sample workﬂow that can be used to assess and correct
the accessibility of PDF documents, and should be modiﬁed depending on the
needs and organization of the institution.
Adding Tags to a PDF
A tagged PDF document assists accessibility by providing a mechanism to
specify a logical content order. Adding tags to a document allows for additional
accessibility retroﬁtting and content manipulation to occur.
Check to ensure the PDF document is not already tagged by check-
ing the document properties (File > Properties) or the Tags panel
(View > Navigation Panels > Tags).
Choose Advanced from the menu bar.
Choose Accessibility > Add Tags to Document. This may take a
few minutes depending on the document size.
Once tags have been added to the PDF, save a copy of the docu-
ment to retain the changes.
Assessing Reading Order
One the challenges to PDF document accessibility is the presentation of infor-
mation to the user, or more speciﬁcally, the logical order in which the infor-
mation is presented. It is not enough that the content can simply be read by
assistive computer technologies; rather, the focus should be on what order the
information is communicated to the user. For example, let a PDF document
have two columns of text. Using a screen-reader is one method to assess the
logical reading order of the document and the intent would be to verify that the
text in the ﬁrst column is read before the text in the second column. If the indi-
vidual using the screen-reader is not aware of differences between the spoken
text versus the on-screen text, it is possible that the individual would mistake
the reading of any text as an indication that the document has readable content.
It is necessary for the individual to distinguish between the capability of the as-
sistive computer technology to communicate the text information as opposed to
communicating the text information in its proper reading order.
Use Assistive Computer Technology
There are a number of different assistive computer technologies that could be
used to review the logical reading order of a PDF document. However, this
does make the assumption that the document author has both the assistive com-
puter technologies installed and conﬁgured on their computer as well as the
skills to use such applications for review.
Use Adobe Read Out Loud
This is a feature that is part of Adobe Acrobat as well as Adobe Reader. It will
process one page at a time and, depending on the length of the document, may
take a long time to speak the document contents. The Read Out Loud tool can
be found under View > Read Out Loud. Once you have activated the Read Out
Loud feature, move to the document content to review and choose “Read this
Page” or “Read to End of Document”.
Save As Text (Accessible)
Another method that can be used to assess the reading order of a PDF document
is to save the document as a different ﬁle type. This will export the text content
of the PDF document such that a visual review of the logical reading order may
be performed. Instead of “listening” to the document content, this allows an au-
thor to visually scan the resulting text ﬁle and see if there are any inconsisten-
cies in how the information would be presented auditorily to the user.
Press the Export button below the menu bar
Choose “More Formats” and then “Text (Accessible)”.
Specify where you wish to save the resulting text ﬁle.
Open the text ﬁle and review the document content ﬂow. This pro-
vides a close visual approximation as to what an individual using
assistive computer technology would hear.
Review the text ﬁle and PDF document and make the appropriate
changes where necessary.
Controlling Reading Order
After adding tags to a PDF document, it is important to verify if the reading
order of the document follows a logical progression. This is particularly true if
the document contains multi-column layouts, sidebars, footnotes or other con-
tent areas that deviate from the general page layout. After adding tags to a PDF,
enable the Order panel (View > Navigation Tabs > Order Panel) to view each
page’s reading order. Reading order is determined on a page-by-page basis.
Content on the page will be “zoned” in gray boxes with a numerical value in the
upper left corner of each “zone”. These numerical values and “zones” in the
PDF view are the same as those identiﬁed in the Order panel.
To manipulate the reading order, open the Order panel (View >
Navigation Tabs > Order Panel).
Click on the box to the left of the numbered content you wish to
reorder. Move the selected content higher or lower in the Order
Content should be read in the numerical order in which it appears
in the Order panel.
You may encounter situations where the tagging process was unable to dis-
tinguish between multiple columns or other page layout designs. As a result,
content may become intermixed resulting in an illogical reading order. It may
be necessary to ﬁrst separate out content areas into distinct zones (e.g., create
multiple zones from one large zone) before altering the reading order. While
this does increase the number of zones on the page, this will allow the author
more control over the actual reading order of the document. Zoning and mark-
ing text is explained in the next section.
Zoning and Marking Text
After running the Add Tags to Document function, it may be necessary to manu-
ally modify the document content. For example, a two-column document may
be recognized incorrectly as one single content zone when in fact it is actually
two separate content zones. Additionally, information that may be relevant to
the page content may not have been recognized during the tagging process,
resulting in relevant content that is not part of the document’s logical reading
order. It is also possible that content was added to the document reading order,
when in fact it does not belong.
Adobe Acrobat’s TouchUp Reading Order tool allows authors to manually zone
page content and either add or remove this information to the document’s read-
ing order. The TouchUp Reading Order tool also allows authors to classify con-
tent as various heading levels (i.e., Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3) as well as
Figures, Tables, or other structural markup. Content that does not belong as part
of the document’s reading order can be marked as “Background”. Be cautious
of this option as it will result in content be removed from the document reading
order and not communicated to the end-user.
To zone and mark text, enable the TouchUp Reading Order tool
(Advanced > Accessibility > TouchUp Reading Order...). It is rec-
ommended to add tags to the document before using the TouchUp
Reading Order tool.
The mouse pointer will turn into a set of cross-hairs. Click and
drag a box around the content you wish to zone. Draw the zoning
region larger than the actual region of the content (in some cases,
you may have to overlap into other content regions to zone correct
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