Acrobat and Accessibility
Although you can create accessible PDF files in several programs, Adobe Acrobat Professional is required to evaluate, repair, and enhance the accessibility of existing PDF files.
This page outlines accessibility features of Acrobat X and XI. If you are using an earlier version of Acrobat, read the article on Acrobat 7-9 and accessibility.
What's new in Acrobat XI?
There are quite a few new and improved accessibility features in Acrobat XI, including the following:
- The option makes it much easier to add and edit alternative text for images.
- Options for Heading 1-6 are available in the TouchUp Reading Order tool (previously Heading 1-3).
- The accessibility checker and wizard are greatly improved.
TouchUp Reading Order
The TouchUp Reading Order (or TURO) tool allows a user to add and edit many common PDF tags, and to view the content order of elements on the page. Although it can speed up the tagging process, it does not take the place of the other tools mentioned previously. Certain tags, such as lists, are only available in thepane.
To use the TURO tool, selectfrom the right-hand menu, then select . If the Accessibility menu is not visible (it is hidden in version XI by default), make sure it is checked in the option menu () in the upper-right corner of the Tools sidebar. When the TURO tool is selected, the view on the screen changes. All of the content is enclosed in numbered boxes. Each of these numbered boxes corresponds with the content order of the PDF, as reflected in the order pane.
There are actually three different types of 'reading order' within a PDF: the visual order that most people see when viewing a PDF, the tags order that is accessed by screen readers and other assistive technologies, and the lesser-known content order that is used by Adobe when a user selectsor options.
While the goal is to get these three views to match, this is not always easy to accomplish. For example, if a PDF is created from a MS Word DOCX file, text boxes and images usually appear in the correct place in the tags order, but they typically appear at the end of the page in content order.
The TURO tool displays the content order of the PDF, NOT the tags order. Reading order can appear correct in this view but the PDF may still be read incorrectly by a screen reader (or vice versa). Only theprovides a true indication of how content will be read by a screen reader.
Thewindow includes a number of options to change tags within a page.
You will notice a group of buttons with the names of several common tags. You can use these buttons to assign tags to a selected block of text or an object.
If you have the TURO tool open and don't see any boxes, your PDF document is most likely untagged.
There are two ways to select an area of text, image, table, or other element using TURO:
- Drag a box around an element using the crosshairs that have replaced the default pointer. It is sometimes difficult to select exactly the right area, but it is a little easier if you try drawing a box that is slightly larger than the element. Once you have selected a new element, you can assign some of the most common tags to that element by clicking on one of the several buttons.
- You can also select everything within a box by clicking on the number in the top-left corner.
Now that you have selected the text, you can assign a tag by clicking on the corresponding button. Once you select a button, Acrobat will place the selected content in the appropriate tag. If you have thepane open, you can view these changes instantly.
While in TURO, you can also assign alternate text to images byon the image and choosing .
|Button||Adobe Tag||Additional information|
||Only H1-H3 are available in Acrobat X.|
||If you select the image and adjacent text then the image will be tagged as a figure and the text will be tagged as its caption.|
||Acrobat attempts to assign rows, columns, and headings. Sometimes it does this correctly, but this should still be checked with the table inspector.|
||Can be used to merge cells if they are incorrectly split.|
|Background||none||This will hide an item completely from a screen reader. It can be used on images and text.|
The Order pane allows you view and edit the content order of a page. To open the Order pane, select oror select in the TURO tool.
To change the order of an element, just click and drag the tag to the location that reflects the correct reading order. This tool can be problematic because while it displays the content order (not the tags order), changes made within this panel will typically be reflected in both the tags and content order, but this behavior can be unpredictable. If there is a mismatch between these views, use theand panes separately to reconcile these differences.
When an image is tagged as a figure, the alternative text will appear in a black box in the upper left hand corner of the image. If it has no alternative text, the caption will read "Figure - No alternate text exists."
To add or edit alternative text, appropriate alternative text in the dialog box.on the image and select . Enter the
The Table Inspector allows you to easily identify and assign scope to table headers.
With the TURO tool open, select a table and then select. You can now select table cells that should be headers. on a selected cell or cells and choose . A dialog box will appear.
If the selected cell(s) needs to be tagged as a header (<TH>), select theoption and assign a scope of either or . After selecting , you will notice that the table header cells will be highlighted in red and the data cells will be highlighted in gray.
Artifacts are elements that are ignored by a screen reader, much like an image with empty alternative text in HTML. Important text should never be labeled as an artifact. The easiest way to change an element to or from an artifact is with the TURO tool. Select the element and press thebutton to make it an artifact.
To search for artifacts, go to thepane and select . A window will appear with several search options. Artifact is the default search, so click . If there are any artifacts, the search will identify them and allow you to change them to other elements.
To change a tag to an artifact in the Tags pane,on the item and select .
View "Structure types" in Acrobat XI
By default, the TURO tool displays the reading order of the objects in a page, but this can be changed in Acrobat XI so that the tags or "Structure types" are displayed instead of the "Page content order". To make this change, select theradio button within the TURO window.
This will change the view so that the white boxes in the upper left corner of each element displays the tag (e.g., "P" or "H1") instead of the reading order.
Other Tools and Features
Acrobat Professional X includes two different Accessibility Checks. The first, the Quick Check, is not very helpful--it basically tells you whether the file has tags or not. It doesn't identify even the most basic errors, such as missing alternate text. The accessibility "Full Check" (available in both Acrobat X and XI) is a much better option. This can be a good tool to ensure that nothing was overlooked (e.g., document language). To run the full check, selectin the right-hand column, > . The Accessibility check in version XI is a bit more complete than version X and provides better documentation.
"Set Alternate Text" in Acrobat XI
Alternative text can be added to all images in the document at one time using a great new feature in Acrobat XI. In thesidebar, select . The first image in the document will be highlighted and a dialog box will appear with a space to enter the alternative text.
The dialog box also has a checkbox to identify an image as a Decorative figure. Unfortunately, this feature does not work as it should. If you check this box and run the Accessibility Full Check again, the error for the image will change from "Figures alternate text - Failed" to "Other elements alternate text - Failed."
Instead of using this checkbox to flag a decorative image, skip to the next image by pressing the right arrow in the dialog. After adding alternative text to all the images that need it, use the Background button in the TURO tool to hide any images that should not be read by screen readers.
Convert Scanned Text
Before you can create a tagged PDF, you must first ensure that the PDF contains real text. If it does not, you must either recreate the PDF file (if you have the original file) or convert it to include true text. To convert the document, select in the right-hand column, then select . The quality of the text depends on the quality of the source document. The conversion is usually fairly good, but you should probably clean up the document by selecting in the submenu.
The Reflow view allows users to reorder the content of a PDF into a simplified, single-column layout, based on the content order.
Select Control + 4. If the document does not appear in the correct order while in Reflow view, the order of the tags will need to be changed.or
Read Out Loud
Read Out Loud is a text-to-speech tool that is available in Adobe Reader and Acrobat. Because it reads the PDF based on the content order, it should not be used in place of a screen reader for testing.
The Action Wizard helps automate multi-step processes, like the creation of an accessible PDF.
"Make Accessible" Wizard in Acrobat XI
The "Make Accessible" action Wizard in Acrobat XI is a great tool, especially when starting with scanned or untagged PDFs. It is a helpful way to ensure that you don't miss any steps while making your document accessible, like providing a page title or document language. To run the wizard, select the. The wizard will then run you through several steps:
- Add Document Description
- Set Open Options
- Recognize Text using OCR
- Detect Form Fields
- Set Tab Order Property
- Set Reading Language
- Add Tags to Document
- Set Alternate Text
- Run Accessibility Full Check
If you PDF is already tagged (e.g., you created a PDF using instructions on the last page) you must skip step 3: "Recognize Text using OCR." Otherwise, you PDF will be re-tagged, and the new tag structure is seldom as good as the original structure. To skip this step, preferably before you start the wizard,and select .
You will still want to check the quality of your tags using the TURO tool after running this wizard. For a video walkthrough and handout on the "Make Accessible" Wizard, see the GOALS Acrobat cheatsheet.
"Create Accessible PDFs" Wizard in Acrobat X
To use the action wizard in Acrobat X, selectin the right-hand column, then select . The wizard will guide you through five steps:
- Add Document Description
- Remove Hidden Information
- Add Tags to Document
- Accessibility Check (Full)
This wizard misses a few key steps such as recognizing the text using OCR, but it can still be a helpful for common issues such as missing page title.