Acrobat Chapter 3: After Converting to a Tagged PDF


In order to create fully accessible PDFs, you will need Adobe Acrobat Pro. All PDFs will need to be checked for accessibility. You can do so by using one of these tools:

Section 3.1: How to Check a PDF Automatically

After you finish making your PDF accessible, you need to check it for any accessibility issues. Automated testing is a great first step. There are various tools available, both within Acrobat itself and third-party-tools. To use Adobe Acrobat’s Accessibility Checker,

  1. Click on the Tools Tab.

    Tools button in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Click on the Accessibility Tool.

    Accessibility Tool in Adobe Acrobat with an open button.
  3. Click the Accessibility Button.

  4. Adobe Acrobat will check 32 different categories. Click Start Checking.

  5. The results of the Accessibility Checker will appear on the left side of the screen. It will tell you want changes should be made and what passes.

Section 3.2: How to Check a PDF Manually

Manual testing is critical to fully check for accessibility. Automated tools have limitations. For example, they can’t tell if the alt text for an image is accurate. Screen readers also cannot tell if the correct tags have been used for each content item.

Section 3.3: Using Assistive Technology

PDF remediation should never be considered complete until the document has been thoroughly tested using a screen reader. It’s not required to use more than one screen reader. However, it is recommended to use at least two. This is because there can be differences in behavior between assistive technologies.

Recommended screen readers for testing are:

  • NVDA (Windows) — free

  • JAWS (Windows) — paid

Testing PDF accessibility on a Mac using VoiceOver, or on mobile devices, is not the best idea. Unfortunately, both VoiceOver and built-in mobile screen readers have limits when it comes to PDFs. Your best bet is to use either NVDA or JAWS on Windows.

Section 3.4: Checking for an Accessible Reading Order in Acrobat

After your document is tagged, it is time to make sure that the PDF has the correct reading order. When tagging a long document manually, you should always check the reading order after each page. To check the reading order, use the Order and Tag buttons on the left side of the screen.

Section 3.5: Adding a Document Title

Document Titles should always be read first by the screen reader when the document is open. It is also the first piece of info displayed in search engine results. Document Titles are very important to include in any project. To add a document title,

  1. Go to File, and Click Properties

  2. In the pop-up dialog, click Description Tab. Type in the title in the Title Field.

  3. Go to Initial View tab.

  4. Under Windows Options, go to the Show section. Select Document Title from the drop-down menu.

Section 3.6: Setting the Document Language

Screen readers are capable of reading many different languages. So you need to be sure that your PDF has the correct language used. A document in English will not be read correctly if Acrobat is set to read French or another language.

  1. Go to File and click Properties.

  2. In the Document Properties Box, select the Advanced Tab.

  3. In the Reading Options section, select a language from the Drop-Down menu.

Section 3.7: PAC 2021

PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC 2021) is a free tool to use for checking your PDF’s Accessibility Checker. PAC 2021 checks your PDF for issues compatible with WCAG and PDF/UA Standards. Though you should take the results seriously, remember that automatic accessibility checkers are a good starting point. You should always manually check the PDF and use a screen reader to get the best possible accessibility results. To check your PDF, click on the Upload Button and choose your file. PAC 2021 will create a report for you after a few minutes.

Section 3.8: Reading Order

Once your document is tagged, you need to establish a Reading Order. This shows the order in which your content will be read by a screen reader. The Reading Order also refers to the Screen Reader Reading Order and the Content Reflow Reading Order. The Screen Reader Reading Order is the order in which content will be read by a screen reader like NVDA. The Content Reflow Reading order is the order the content will be presented when set to Reflow View. That is organized in the Order Pane and is much harder to control. This is because moving items around in the Order Pane impacts the order of tags in the Tags Pane.

Keep in mind the dual functionality of the Order Pane described above. Key points to remember:

  • When you move items around in the Order Pane, the tags in the Tag Pane move correspondingly. Sometimes, when objects are moved, their tags may be moved into the wrong place.

  • When you change the order of items in the Order Pane, the visual stacking order of items also changes. You might end up with an object that should be in front of another object but ends up behind it. This will cause layout problems. You’ll need to fix the order.

  • The numbering you see in the Order Pane does not relate to the screen reader reading order. Instead, it shows the visual stacking order of different content layers. So don’t be misled by these numbers when you’re checking for screen reader reading order.

  • In some cases, it's not possible to manage the reading and display order of multiple tags. This is the case for tags that are next to each other from the Order Pane. If this happens, you’ll need to go into the Tags Pane to make fixes.

Section 3.9: Using the Tags Pane

For most simple documents, the Tags Pane is the easiest way to define the screen reader reading order. Examine the tag tree carefully and ensure that it presents the content in a logical order. The Order Pane may be more helpful for making your reading order if your document has lots of visuals.

Analyze the Content

Analyze the types of content in the document and how they should be presented. For example:

  • A heading, even if placed in the middle or bottom of a page, must be read before its content.

  • If long quotes are used, have the screen reader read the speaker name first. That way, users know who the quote is from.

  • When content refers to footnotes, you should them read immediately following their content.

Arrange Tags in a Logical Reading Order

Tags are predictably read by screen readers from top to bottom in the tag tree.

When manually tagging, create the tags in the order in which you expect the content to be. This will minimize any tag rearranging. But if you need to move tags around, just drag and drop them in the Tags Pane.

Section 3.10: Tab Order

When PDF documents have links or form fields, you must define the order in which a user tabs through them. To make this happen:

  1. Open the Page Thumbnails Pane.

  2. Select all of the thumbnails in the Navigation Pane (Control + Click).

  3. Right-click one of the thumbnails and select Page Properties.

  4. On the Tab Order tab, select Use Document Structure, click OK.

Section 3.11: Cleaning Up Unmarked Content

When you are finished tagging the document, be sure to check that everything is tagged. To be sure:

  1. Open the Tags Pane.

  2. Open the Options Menu.

  3. Click Find.

  4. In the Drop-down menu, select Unmarked Content.

  5. Select the options for Search Document.

  6. Click Find.

  7. Acrobat will show you an untagged item with a pink border around it.

  8. Click Next in the Dialogue Box to see each unmarked content item one at a time.

  9. Tag the items. Repeat the process for the rest of the document.

Section 3.12: Deleting Empty Tags

You should also delete all empty tags. If you want to do this automatically, Acrobat can only delete them all at once. If you want to do it one by one, you’ll need to do this manually in the tag tree. But be careful if you use the auto feature. Not all empty tags should be empty; there might be content that needs to go in there. To delete empty tags,

  1. Open the Options Menu in the Tags Pane.

  2. Select Delete Empty Tags.