Acrobat Chapter 3: After Converting to a Tagged PDF

I have a tagged PDF in Adobe Acrobat. What is my next step to make my file accessible?


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 test it to check your results.

Automated testing is a great first step. There are various tools available, both within Acrobat itself and third-party-tools. Within Acrobat, you can find the Accessibility Checker by having the Accessibility Tab open. Then click Accessibility Check.

Accessibility Tool in Adobe Acrobat with an open button.
Accessibility Check button in Adobe Acrobat.

But automated testing can’t replace manual testing performed by a person. In order to verify that a PDF is truly accessible, you must manually test it with a screen reader.

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 or informative, or 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, but it is recommended to use at least two, since there can be differences in behavior between assistive technologies.

Recommended screen readers for testing are:

  • NVDA (Windows) — free

  • JAWS (Windows) — paid

Testing for PDF accessibility on a Mac using VoiceOver (the built-in screen reader), or on mobile devices, is not the best idea. Unfortunately, both VoiceOver and built-in mobile screen readers have more limitations when it comes to PDF, so your best bet is to use either NVDA or JAWS on Windows.

Section 3.4: Adding 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.

    Document Properties box with Description Tab open and Title is Course Syllabus Template.
  3. Go to Initial View tab.

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

Section 3.5: Setting the Document 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 3.6: Doing a Full Check of a PDF using Adobe Acrobat

  1. Go to Tools.

  2. Click Accessibility.

  3. Click Full Check.

  4. Adobe Acrobat will check 32 different categories.

  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 3.7: Checking 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 3.8: Working in the Order 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 and the tags in the Tag Pane move correspondingly, sometimes they may be inadvertently moved inside other tags.

  • 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, causing 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 that are next to each other from the Order Pane, in which case you’ll need to go into the Tags Pane to make fixes.


Section 3.9: 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. On the other hand, if you’re working with a document that is more focused on visual presentation, you might have to go into the Order Pane to fix the reading order.

Analyze the Content

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

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

  • In a long quote, even if the speaker name appears at the end, it’s better to read it first, so that screen reader users know who the quote is from.

  • When content refers to footnotes at the bottom of the page, in some cases, you should have the footnotes 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 (in the order in which they appear).

When manually tagging, create the tags in the order in which you expect the content to be, since they are added one after the other. 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 a PDF document has links or form fields, you must define the order in which a user will go through it. 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.

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.

Step-by-step guide to using the auto feature in Acrobat.

  1. Open the Options Menu in the Tags Pane.

  2. Select Delete Empty Tags.