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Checking for PDF accessibility

Acrobat 11

Adobe completely revamped the Accessibility checker and Report in Acrobat 11, likely in anticipation of the Section 508 Refresh, due out in the very near future. They removed the Quick Check option, but kept the same icons and the Accessibility Panel is pretty much the same as in Acrobat 10, minus the Quick Check.

Once you’ve either selected the Full Check item in the Accessibility Tools Pane or the Full Check icon in the toolbar a dialog box will appear.

Accessibility Checker Options dialog box

Accessibility Checker Options dialog box

Here you have the option to choose where to save your accessibility report,  whether or not to attach it to the document, and whether or not to check all pages or just a few.

You also have the opportunity to choose which of 4 different categories for 32 different options you want to check. We check them all and decide after the check if we are going to deal with the failures when they are brought to our attention.

  • Document
    • Accessibility permission flag is set
    • Document is not image-only PDF
    • Document is tagged PDF
    • Document structure provides a logical reading order
    • Text language is specified
    • Document title is showing in title bar
    • Bookmarks are present in large documents
    • Document has appropriate color contrast
  • Page Content
    • All page content is tagged
    • All annotations are tagged
    • Tab order is consistent with structure order
    • Reliable character encoding is provided
    • All multimedia objects are tagged
    • Page will not cause screen flicker
    • No inaccessible scripts
    • Navigation links are not repetitive
    • Page does not require timed responses
  • Forms, Tables and Lists
    • All form fields are tagged
    • All form fields have descriptions
    • TR must be a child of Table, THead, TBody or TFoot
    • TH and TD must be children of TR
    • Tables must have headers
    • Tables must contain the same number of columns in each row and rows in each column
    • Tables must have a summary
    • LI must be a child of L
    • Lbl and LBody must be children of LI
  • Alternate Text and Headings
    • Figures require alternate text
    • Alternate text that will never be read
    • Alternate text must be associated with some content
    • Alternate text should not hide annotation
    • Elements require alternate text
    • Appropriate heading nesting

After you’ve selected “Start Checking” the Accessibility Summary will open on the left-hand side of your work space.

Accessibility Summary

Many of the items in the summary are links that will take you to the problem area in the document you’ve checked. For instance in the figure below, the first figure that needs alt text is highlighted.

Figure that needs alt text

Figure that needs alt text

If you right click on one of the accessibility checker summary links a handy option menu opens and you are given several options (which can be different depending on which accessibility issue you’ve selected:

Accessibility checker summary right-click menu

Accessibility checker summary right-click menu

  1. Automatically fix the issue — if you choose “Fix” the issue will either be automatically fixed or a dialog box will open for you to do an action. For instance a dialog box will open if you choose fix for missing alt text where you will then add the alt text for the highlighted image.
  2. Skip Rule — if you’ve determined the rule does not apply to your document you can choose skip rule, however, use this wisely. Just because you get a “clean” report, your file may not be accessible. This may be used for skipping the “character encoding” rule when the characters with issues are bullets or unimportant images you’ve marked as artifacts.
  3. Explain will open a web page that takes you to a detailed explanation of the issue.
  4. Check again — if you’ve fixed the issue on your own, you can choose “check again” and the check will be run again.
  5. Show Report — shows the accessibility report
  6. Options — Opens the options window again
  7. Show in Tags panel (not shown in image) — opens the tags panel and highlights tag that has an issue
  8. Show in Content panel (not shown in image) — opens the content panel and highlights the content with an issue

Acrobat 10

When you first receive a PDF you’ll probably want to run an accessibly check on it to see what you are up against. Don’t bother with the Quick Check. In our opinion it is a waste of time.

</>To run the full check, select Full Check item in the Accessibility Tools Pane or select the Full Check icon in the toolbar.

Accessibility Full Check icon

Accessibility Full Check icon

Accessibility Full Check in Accessibility Panel

Accessibility Full Check in Accessibility Panel

A dialog box will open.

See image below for example.

The directions for Acrobat 8 & 9 also pertain to Acrobat 10, so to save bandwidth here, follow them.

Acrobat 8 & 9

The first thing you’ll want to do when working on accessibility of PDF files is to check to see if they are accessible. On the drop-down menu bar click Advanced > Accessibility > Full Check.

Screen capture of Advanced menu with Accessibility then Full Check chosen (Acrobat 8)

Drop-down menu Advanced > Accessibility > Full check

Acrobat 9 Professional’s placement of Accessibility under the Advanced menu is a little different than in Acrobat 8 Professional:

Screen capture of Advanced menu with Accessiblity then Full check chosen (Acrobat 9)

Advanced menu > Accessibility > Full Check

A window [see example below] will open with several options including:

  • where to file accessibility report (the default is in “my documents” but you can change it to wherever you like)
  • what pages to check (helpful if you are troubleshooting errors in large documents)
  • what kind of report to run and what to check for in each guideline
    • Adobe PDF — Checks for general accessibility issues
    • Section 508 Web-based intranet and Internet information and applications (1194.22) — Checks for Section 508 specific accessibility issues
    • W3C® Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 — checks for W3C 1.0 specific accessibility issues — usually more strict than the two above
    • W3C® Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (Working Draft 27 April 2006) — checks for W3C 2.0 specific accessibility issues — the most strict of the listed guidelines

We use Adobe PDF and Section 508 when we run our checks.

Click Start Checking

Choose your options and then choose start checking

Choose your options and then choose start checking

Your results will vary, but in all cases you will first get a pop-up window giving you an idea if your PDF is accessible or not.

It might say that no tags were found in the document, or it might say that so many images did not have alt text. It might, if you’re lucky (sort of) say that no problems were found in the document.

Screen capture of pop-up window describing if PDF is accessible or not

Example pop-up window accessibility summary (Acrobat 8 — PDF Accessibility Check)

The pop-up window in Acrobat 9 is different in that it does not give you a brief summary — it either tells you no problems were found or it tells you that problems were found which might prevent your document from being fully accessible. If you choose Section 508 or the W3C options, the pop-up box will never tell you your document is accessible, but will always say “The checker found problems which may prevent the document from being fully accessible. Please see the report for more details

Don’t despair. Your document might be accessible, but you need to do some manual checks to ensure it is fully accessible. (more about that later)

Screen capture of pop-up window after Full check using Section 508 option reading The checker found problems which might prevent the document from being fully accessible. See report for full details.

The checker found problems which might prevent the document from being fully accessible. See report for more details.

In any case, unless you’ve manually fixed the file already and are re-checking, you have work ahead of you.

Once you hit OK on the pop-up window, an accessibility report will be generated in the sidebar of Acrobat.

Example accessibility report

Example accessibility report

Review accessibility report to see where errors are, but don’t necessarily use it to fix document. It will always be available by clicking on round blue button with wheelchair. (unless you close the PDF file, in which case you can usually find the accessibility report in the root of your documents. You can always run the accessibility report again)

If the accessibility report indicated that the document was not tagged, you’ll need to add tags to the document to proceed. To add tags go to Advanced > Accessibility > Add tags to document. You can then review the report that is generated, but do not necessarily use it to fix the document.

If the document came to you tagged, you’ll want to review the tags carefully. Sometimes it is best to retag a file than to work with a file that was tagged in a program that doesn’t tag well. Make sure you save your document with a different file name before removing the original tags. You may want to go back to that document.

To remove tags from an entire document, go to the tags panel, right click on the tag named “tags” and choose Delete Tag. You can then re-tag the document by following the directions above.

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