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Digital Commons

A guide to posting and navigating DigitalCommons@CalPoly


Students are responsible for ensuring that his/her files are compliant with campus and CSU ADA (American Disabilities Act) policies.

An excellent resource for this is here, and information from this site was used to fill out this portion of the libguide.

This ADA-walkthrough is a modified version of: 

Content modified from: Making a PDF File Accessible - Step by Step. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Step 1 - Document Properties and Metadata

Metadata is used by Search Engines to display information about the document to give the visitor enough information to determine if this is the document they are looking for.

Metadata is usually transferred automatically from the source document in most instances.

Be sure to check that Metadata was transferred correctly:

  1. If metadata was not transferred, was transferred incorrectly, or was not created in the source document, it must be added in the Adobe® Acrobat® Document Properties dialog box.

    » Menu: File > Document Properties > Description Tab

    1. Title field: Enter a meaningful name for the document.

    2. Author field: Enter “[your name], [co-author's name], [etc.]” (minus quotes) No abbreviations.

    3. Subject field: Enter a short description (160 characters or less) for the document.

  2. Set the appropriate language.

    » Menu: File > Document Properties > Advanced Tab

    In the document properties dialog box, choose the Advanced tab. Verify that the language field lists "English (US)" (or "Spanish" if appropriate).

  3. Click OK to close the Document Properties dialog box.

Step 2 - Tag the Document

Tags are the basis of an accessible PDF file. They indicate the structure of the document, communicate the order in which the items should be read, and determine exactly which items will be read.

If the PDF file was created using "Convert to PDF", tags should already have been created.

Be sure to check that tags were created correctly AND are in the correct reading order:

  1. "Add Tags to Document" tool – If your source program doesn’t support the "Convert to PDF" function, you will need to use the Add Tags to Document tool.

    » Menu: Advanced > Accessibility > Add Tags to Document

    Note: If the Add Tags option is grayed out, the document already has tags.

    Acrobat® will analyze the document and add tags automatically. For long or complex documents, this may take a few minutes.

    When the process is complete, the Add Tags Report should open at the right side of the screen. This report lists potential issues that were identified during the tagging process.

  2. Correct All Issues from Add Tags Report – All issues listed in the Accessibility section of the Add Tags Report must be corrected to make the file accessible.

    The issues list includes links to the items in question. Further down the report you will find the Hints for Repair section. This will usually provide all the information needed to fix the problem.

  3. Manually Tag – If you need to manually tag a section of a PDF page, use the TouchUp Reading Order Tool.

    » Menu: Advanced > Accessibility > TouchUp Reading Order Tool

    1. Left-click the mouse next to the area that needs to be tagged, then drag the cross hairs to draw a box around the area you want to tag (black square below).

      Screeshot with affected area surrounded by a square

    2. Release the left mouse button. The selected area will contain blue boxes.

      Screeshot with affected area containing multiple small boxes, each letter surrounded by a box

    3. Choose the appropriate button (Text, Figure, Table, Form Field, etc.) from the TouchUp Reading Order tool to tag the content. In this case "Text." The content is now in a gray, numbered box, denoting that it has been tagged and will be read in the order denoted by the number.

      Screeshot with affected area surrounded by a square and the number 2 in the upper left of the square

    For content displayed as tabular data, select the entire table, then choose the "Table" button from the TouchUp Reading Order tool.

Step 3 - Tagging PDF Content as a Table


View a video walkthrough of this here.

Step 4 - Add Descriptive Text to Images

A screen reader will not be able to interpret graphic elements placed on the page (illustrations, graphs, images, etc.).

When descriptive or alternate text is added, it will be read aloud by a screen reader. Alternate text does not change the visual appearance of the document. As a general rule, adding alternate text to the original document in its native format (for example: Word, WordPerfect) is considered best practice.

Alternate text should provide meaningful, detailed description of the graphic element. Graphs and charts should have alternate text that exactly describes the numbers and amounts being conveyed by the graph/chart. A simple title is not a sufficient.

See Graphs and Charts for more detail. The associated example of the long description is a good example of descriptive text.

Note: If the image does not add meaning to the document (logo, banner, border, etc.), it should be marked as background using the TouchUp Reading Order tool.

  1. Click the TouchUp Reading Order tool. This is the middle icon in the TouchUp Toolbar.

    The TouchUp Reading Order dialog box will appear and highlighted areas will show on the page with numbers in the upper left corner.

  2. Right-click on the image needing description.
  3. Select Edit Alternate Text.
  4. Enter the description.
  5. Click OK.

Step 5 - Verify and Correct the Reading Order

When a sighted person reads a document that has complex elements such as columns, graphs, etc., intuitive decisions are made about the order in which it is read. A screen reader cannot make intuitive decisions. The reading order is very literal.

Tags help determine the logical reading order and this is often very different than the way the document looks in the presentation layer.

  1. Verify Tag Type and Reading Order – Use the TouchUp Reading Order tool to check that all tags in the document are the correct type (Text, Figure, Table, Form Field, etc.) and in the correct reading order.

    » Menu: Advanced > Accessibility > TouchUp Reading Order Tool

    See the screenshot below for an example of how the sections are tagged:

    • The title "Innovate" is tagged as "Text" and is #1 in the reading order.
    • It is followed by paragraph #2 tagged as "Text."
    • Columns #3 and #4 are tagged as "Text" separately instead of just one large block. Screen reader software is unable to discern columns and reads from left to right, starting at the top. So it is important that columns be tagged this way, else it will read straight across the columns and be confusing to someone listening.
    • Images #5 and #6 are tagged as Figures and each contains Alternate Text that describes the images. The Alternate Text appears truncated in the screenshot, but contain full descriptions.
    Screenshot of a PDF page with the TouchUp Reading Order tags visible
  2. Change the Reading Order – If it is necessary to change the reading order of any of the tagged items, open the Order Panel.

    » Menu: Advanced > Accessibility > TouchUp Reading Order Tool > Show Order Panel button

    Select the item that needs to be reordered by clicking on it (1st screenshot), then drag it into position. As you drag, a horizontal dotted line will appear showing potential locations (2nd screenshot). (A barred circle indicates you cannot move the item to the location where you are pointing.) When you release the mouse, the reading order will be renumbered in the Order Panel and on the page.

    Screenshot of a PDF Order Panel showing the reading order of 7 items, and item 4 selected  Screenshot of a PDF Order Panel showing the reading order of 7 items, and item 4 selectedm, with a horizontal line showing where Item 4 will be dragged

Step 6 - Verify Accessibility

This tool will generate a detailed report of all problems and suggestions for fixing them. If problems are found, you will usually run this report several times as you progress though the repair process.

  • Save your file before you run the report to make sure the Accessibility Checker is working with the most current version of the file.
  • Always use the Full Check feature – Quick Check does not do an adequate analysis.
  1. Run the Accessibility Checker.

    » Menu: Advanced > Accessibility > Full Check

    Note: If this is the first time using this tool, verify the following settings:

    • Report and Comment Options:
      • Create Accessibility Report is checked.
      • Include repair hints in Accessibility Report is checked.
    • Page Range: All pages in document is selected.
    • All items in the Checking Options section are checked.
  2. Click Start Checking.

    If a message box appears indicating that Acrobat® found no problems in this document, this step is complete. Continue remediation by verifying the reading order.

    If accessibility errors are found, the full check Accessibility Report appears on the right side of the screen. It will contain links to any problems found, and a Hints for Repair section.

    • Take a moment to assess the report before repairing problems.

      When you encounter a font error (inaccessible fonts, Unicode, etc.) with text that should be readable, you must go back to the source document, change the font and create a new PDF file. Use the links provided in the Accessibility Report to locate the problem(s) before you return to the source document.

      Exception: The only exception to this rule is when an inaccessible font is used for a bullet or other decorative element. These errors do not need to be corrected.