Academic Technology and Creative Services : Spring 2009
PDF Accessibility : Creating Accessible PDFs 9
Assess Reading Order
Another important check is reading order. Reading order is the order in which
an assistive technology like a Screen Reader (Job Access With Speech JAWS)
will read aloud the document to the user. When you convert a document
from Word or PowerPoint over to Adobe PDF format, you are carrying over
the tags (labels) that identify each component of that document into PDF.
The reading order depends on these tags (labels) that are carried over into the
Adobe PDF document. Tags indicate to the user what items make up the document (headings,
links, tables, images, text) and the order in which they will be read to the user of assistive
technology. A PDF document may visually seem organized and easy to follow for a sighted user,
but if the native documents were not created with accessibility in mind before converting these
over into PDF, JAWS and any other screen reading software will unveil a jumble of
incomprehensible words to a blind/low vision user trying to access the document. Fortunately,
there are a few things you can do in Adobe Acrobat to check for reading order of your PDF.
In Adobe Acrobat, reading order can be checked by assessing the Order Panel and the Tags
Panel. Both panels should display the same order so that the content can be read in the same
order whether it stays as a PDF or is exported into a Text (Accessible) version. The exported
Text (Accessible) version of the PDF displays content in the order specified by the Tags Panel
of the PDF. The Read Out Loud Feature in Adobe Acrobat and screen reading software such as
Job Access With Speech (JAWS) also reads content in the order indicated by the Tags Panel. Edit
the tags and order panels appropriately so that they match by following the steps indicated in the
sections below. Since most of your edits to the PDF will be done using the Order Panel and the
TouchUp Reading Order Tool, once you are done doing edits in the Order Panel, go to the Tags
panel and make sure the tags read in the correct order as shown in the Order Panel. Just because
the reading order is correct in the Order Panel does not mean it is correct on the tags panel.
Remember, assistive technology reads PDF content based on the reading order indicated in the
Tags Panel so be sure it is correct!
Using the Tags Panel
As mentioned earlier the tags panel displays all the structural elements contained in your
document such as paragraphs, headings, links, lists, images etc. The order in which these items
are displayed is the order in which they will be read out loud to a user of assistive technology,
thus, it is important to ensure that the tag order is correct and that tags are not missing. Begin by
opening the tags panel:
If the tags panel is not showing on the navigation bar, go to the View menu >
Navigation Panels > select Tags. This will open the Content, Order and Tags panels
in a small window. You can dock each panel on the left navigation bar by clicking on
the tab name for each panel and dragging and dropping into the navigation panel.
Click on the tags panel to view the tags panel (see Tools of the Trade section to
learn how to dock these panels).
In the tags panel you will see an icon labeled tags which has a (+) expand button
next to it. Click the expand (+) button to expand the list of tags. The expanded tags
list may still contain collapsed items so you will need to make sure to click on all of