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Accessibility checklist for COE Adobe Acrobat PDF files

Introduction and background

Webpages should be accessible by as many site visitors as possible, including people who rely on screen readers or other alternative devices for using webpages. At UW-Madison, websites must comply with U.S. Section 508 Guidelines. Every effort is made to check PDF files for accessibility before posting.

Some changes to customary methods for building websites are important not only to ensure accessibility, but also to organize sites so they are easy to build and maintain. Instead of posting word processing and page layout files on the web, saving them as PDF files helps prevent virus distribution and reduce the time to open them on the web. Adobe Acrobat PDF files are compact, and the viewer application is widely available.

If your document began as a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file ...

... only two or three steps are needed to add alternate text: This short summary on the Microsoft website explains the steps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in Office 2007.

If you're converting a Word 2007 document to PDF, you can use a free plugin from Microsoft to make your PDFs accessible.

If you're converting older versions of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents to PDF, the four small steps below will make your PDF work easier:

  1. Double-click any inserted image or graphic. A Format Picture window for formatting graphics appears. There are five tabs at the top. The fifth one is "Web."
  2. Select the Web tab. A window opens with a box for "Accessible text."
  3. In the Accessible text box, type a brief description of the image or graphic.
  4. Click OK and save your Word file. When you convert the file to PDF, these text descriptions will be included in the final PDF.

In Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, click the PDF icon on the toolbar to start the conversion to PDF. screen capture of the Microsoft Word toolbars, with the Adobe Acrobat icons circled

You can also make the PDF from Adobe Acrobat. Open Adobe Acrobat and choose Create PDF > From File....

If the PDF icon is not available in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, then the full version of Adobe Acrobat for creating PDF files has not been installed.

If there's no electronic version of your document...

It's best to create a PDF from an original electronic file such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe InDesign, or AutoCad because the resulting PDF can be turned into an accessible PDF. Some PDF documents that are created from scanning can be converted to meet accessibility guidelines quickly in Adobe Acrobat by using Document > OCR Text Recognition > Recognize Text Using OCR . If you must post a scanned PDF on a website, include information for providing alternative formats. Here's an example statement:

"Most browsers can open the PDF file on this page. If you need a free PDF viewer, please visit the Adobe Acrobat Reader webpage. Contact us for a printout or alternative format."

Be sure to include your contact information on the page.

Quick-reference for Adobe Acrobat 9, 8, 7, or 6 Professional

The best way to ensure that PDF files are as accessible as possible is to use the checking tools and repair strategies outlined below.

After the usual conversion of a file to Adobe Acrobat PDF from an application such as Microsoft Word, QuarkXPress, or AutoCad, follow these steps.

If these steps seem daunting or you are short of time, please contact the College of Engineering webmaster for a demo or help.

  1. Open a PDF. Open the PDF file you want to upload to the website or check for accessibility compliance.

  2. Use the Accessibility Checker. Select Advanced > Accessibility > Full Check in Adobe Acrobat to test PDF files for accessibility. In the window that opens, click OK. An accessibility report appears.

    If the Accessibility Checker reports that the file has "no problems," it's ready to upload to a website. If there are errors, follow these steps for repair and testing:

    • Repair file structure. Check whether the file structure can be edited. Select View > Navigation Tabs > Tags. If there are no tags, select Advanced > Accessibility > Add Tags to Document to add structure to the file. Run Advanced > Accessibility > Full Check again.

    • Repair language errors. If the Accessibility Checker reports, "All of the text in this document lacks a language specification," select View > Navigation Tabs > Tags. Open the Tags Root. Select the first Section or other first tag and right-click to select Properties. In the Language box, select EN for English. Click OK and save the file. Run Tools > Accessibility Checker > Full Check again. If the language error persists, select the rest of the Section tags and specify EN. Repeat until the error disappears.

    • Replace scanned files. If the Accessibility Checker reports, "This document is not structured; the reading order of the contents may be incorrect," and you have already run Accessibility > Add Tags to Docment, the PDF was made by scanning. Either use Document > OCR Text Recognition > Recognize Text as OCR, ask the person who supplied the file for the original document, or replace the file with conventional HTML webpages. Visit "Accessible Scanned Documents" for more information.

    • Insert alternate text for images. If the Accessibility Checker reports, "9999 (or some number) element(s) with no alternate text," the error is usually repaired by adding an alternative text (ALT) tag to the original document and remaking the PDF. An ALT tag holds alternative text that describes a picture or other nontext element.

      If you don't have access to the original file from which the PDF was made, find each image or photo in the Tags window, right-click to select Properties, and fill in the Alternate Text box.

      Images and photos usually may be located by finding the tag in the Tags window. This error is frequently caused by layout frames, decorative borders, table grids or underlined text. The alternate text in that case may be simple, such as "decorative line." Sometimes there are too many to repair. Consult the person who supplied the file to find the original file and remake the PDF, or replace it with conventional HTML webpages.

    • If minor errors remain, let people know. Select the Accessibility Checker. In the first section at the top, select Create Comments in Document and click OK.

      Acrobat places a brief note next to any areas in the PDF file that might pose a problem for screen readers. Sometimes it's necessary to delete multiple notes or reformat them. This step is also useful for finding problem spots in a document.

      As a last resort, place a brief note on the webpage that links to the noncompliant PDF: "This PDF file contains scanned documents, underlined text, or other elements that might not be usable by screen readers. Please contact ... for an accessible version."

    Adobe Acrobat has a "Read Aloud" feature that works with "tagged" PDF files, that is, PDF files that are created from electronic files rather than by scanning printed documents. Adobe Acrobat Professional includes extensive instructions in the application Help files. More information about Adobe Acrobat and accessibility is available on the Web Accessibility in Mind (WEBAIM) website.

    Improving Reading Order

    Explanations of tagged PDF files and structured documents, instructions for correcting reading order, and other advanced topics are available from these webpages:

    Quick-reference for Adobe Acrobat 5

    Every effort is made to check PDF files for accessibility before posting. The best way to ensure that PDF files are as accessible as possible is to use the checking tools and repair strategies outlined below.

    After the usual conversion of a file to Adobe Acrobat PDF from an application such as Microsoft Word, Adobe PageMaker or QuarkXPress, follow these steps.

    If the PDF icon is not available in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, then the full version of Adobe Acrobat for creating PDF files has not been installed.

    1. Check whether the MakeAccessible plugin is installed on your computer. Open Adobe Acrobat to check whether the MakeAccessible plugin is installed. If you have the two menu choices Tools > Accessibility Checker and Document > Make Accessible, the plugin is included. If you don't have these two menu choices and you're using Adobe Acrobat 5.0 for Windows, download and install the MakeAccessible plugin from the Adobe website, http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/detail.jsp?ftpID=1161.

    2. Open a PDF. Open the PDF file you want to upload to the website or check for accessibility compliance.

    3. Use the Accessibility Checker. Select Tools > Accessibility Checker in Adobe Acrobat to test PDF files for accessibility. In the window that opens, click OK. An accessibility report appears.

      If the Accessibility Checker reports that the file has "no problems," it's ready to upload to a website. If there are errors, follow these steps for repair and testing:

      • Repair file structure. Check whether the file structure can be edited. Select Window > Tags. If there are no tags, select Document > MakeAccessible to add structure to the document. Run Tools > Accessibility Checker.

      • Repair language errors. If the Accessibility Checker reports, "All of the text in this document lacks a language specification," select Window > Tags. Open the Tags Root. Select the first Section and right-click to select Element Properties. In the Language box, select EN for English. Click OK and save the file. Run Tools > Accessibility Checker again. If the language error persists, select the rest of the Section tags and specify EN. Repeat until the error disappears.

      • Replace scanned files. If the Accessibility Checker reports, "This document is not structured; the reading order of the contents may be incorrect," and you have already run Document > Make Accessible, the PDF was made by scanning and you cannot repair it. Consult the person who supplied the file, if possible, to ask for the original document, or replace the file with conventional HTML webpages.

      • Insert alternate text for images. If the Accessibility Checker reports, "9999 (or some number) element(s) with no alternate text," the error is usually repaired by adding an alternative text (ALT) tag to the original document and remaking the PDF. An ALT tag holds alternative text that describes a picture or other nontext element.

        If you don't have access to the original file from which the PDF was made, find each image or photo in the Tags window, right-click to select Element Properties, and fill in the Alternate Text box.

        Images and photos usually may be located by finding the tag in the Tags window. This error is frequently caused by decorative borders, table grids or underlined text. The alternate text in that case may be simple, such as "decorative line." Sometimes there are too many to repair. Consult the person who supplied the file to find the original file and remake the PDF, or replace it with conventional HTML webpages.

      • If minor errors remain, let people know. Select the Accessibility Checker. In the first section at the top, select Create Comments in Document and click OK.

        Acrobat places a brief note next to any areas in the PDF file that might pose a problem for screen readers. Sometimes it's necessary to delete multiple notes or reformat them. This step is also useful for finding problem spots in a document.

        As a last resort, place a brief note on the webpage that links to the noncompliant PDF: "This PDF file contains scanned documents, underlined text, or other elements that might not be usable by screen readers. Please contact ... for an accessible version."


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    Date last modified: 02-Aug-2012
    Date created: 05-Dec-2002
    Content By: webmaster@engr.wisc.edu
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