County of Sonoma, California
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Making a PDF File Accessible - Step by Step

As with any written documentation, PDF files that will be published to County web pages must first be made accessible. If receiving content from 3rd party vendors, it is recommended you insist to those vendors that they provide the document with remediation already completed. (After all, they are in the business of creating documents, and therefore should be able to comply.) Also, avoid documents containing scanned text as they are extremely difficult to remediate for accessibility.

This information was originally written for Adobe® Acrobat® v7.0. Since then, it has be upgraded to include instructions for Adobe® Acrobat® v9.0.

Where necessary, the instructions will specify individual versions. However, whenever possible, the instructions have been genericized to accommodate various versions.

Ideally, the file will have been made accessible when it was originally created, whether it was created in Microsoft® Word® or Adobe® InDesign®. Regardless, the accessibility of the PDF file must be verified prior to publishing to the Internet, and, if necessary, any remaining issues will need to be remediated.

Step 1 - Prepare Scanned Documents

You should avoid using documents that have been scanned if at all possible. A scanned document is actually one large image per page and a screen reader will see this as a blank page. Scanned documents are not accessible to screen readers without additional work that is often extensive. Instead of printing out and scanning a document and trying to create a PDF with it, it’s best to create a PDF directly from a source electronic document (like a Word DOC or XLS file).

  1. To determine if a document is scanned, try to select some text using the Select Tool.

    » Menu: Tools > Select & Zoom > Select Tool

    Look at your cursor. If your cursor looks like a "cross-hairs" (+) rather than an "I-beam" (I) you are working with a scanned document. This will present an accessibility challenge and result in a much bigger file size. A large file size can also be a barrier for website visitors with dialup access.

    If you have access to the file in its original program, open the file in the native format and create a new PDF file.

  2. If you must use a scanned document, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) will need to be applied to the file before the document can be remediated for accessibility.

    » Menu: Document > OCR Text Recognitions > Recognize Text Using OCR

    1. Click Start...
    2. Select the appropriate pages.
    3. Settings should indicate the output style will be one of the following. Edit these settings if necessary.
      • Formatted Text & Graphics (Acrobat® v7.0) or
      • Searchable Image Exact (Acrobat® v9.0).

After applying OCR, you must verify the accuracy of the character recognition by searching for OCR suspects and correcting them. For detailed information on this process, see Creating Adobe® PDF documents from paper documents in the Acrobat® help file. This can be found in the Creating Adobe® PDF Files Using Acrobat® section.

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Step 2 - 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.

      If the document is a recurring item like an Agenda, include the name of the hearing body and the hearing date in the Title field. For example:

      • Board of Supervisors Meeting Agenda – November 27, 2007 (or 11/27/2007)
      • Agricultural Commissioner Newsletter – November 2007 (or 11/2007)
      • Sonoma County Economic & Demographic Profile, 2007-2008
    2. Author field: Enter “Sonoma County” or “County of Sonoma” (minus quotes), the authoring department, and phone number that someone who might need accessibility assistance with the document can call. Be sure that it is a general phone number that will be answered during business hours. Avoid using a specific person’s phone number as that person might be out of the office when someone calls for assistance. It is important to include the County name because there are over 3,000 counties in the US and they may all have similar department names. So it’s important to differentiate. Be sure to spell out department names. No abbreviations.

      Examples of properly formed Author fields:

      • County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors (707) 565-2241
      • Sonoma County Human Resources Department (707) 565-2331
    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.

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Step 3 - 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.

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Step 4 - Tagging PDF Content as a Table

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Step 5 - The Accessibility Statement

Add the Accessibility Statement (the text in the “Documents written in English” or “Documents written in Spanish” sections below) to all documents posted online so that it is the first text to be read aloud.

Please modify the italicized text surrounded by square brackets [] to fit your purpose. The county, department name, and phone number are required elements. Be sure to include a general phone number that will be answered during business hours. Avoid using a specific person’s phone number as that person might be out of the office when someone calls for assistance. Since it is impossible to predict which contact method is most usable for the visitor, please provide as many alternative contact methods as are available.

  • Documents written in English

    For accessibility assistance with this document, please contact the [Sonoma County or County of Sonoma] [Department name] at [(707) 565-xxxx], Fax at [(707) 565-xxxx], TDD at [(707) 565-xxxx] or through the California Relay Service (by dialing 711).

  • Documents written in Spanish

    Para asistencia con la accesibilidad de este documento, por favor contacte al Condado de Sonoma [Department name] al [(707) 565-xxxx], fax al [(707) 565-xxxx], Aparato de Telecomunicaciones Para Personas con Problemas de la audición y sordera (TDD) al [(707) 565-xxxx], o por el Servicio de Retransmisión de California (marque 711).

To add the Accessibility Statement to a PDF file:

  1. Use the TouchUp Reading Order tool to manually tag a section of whitepace in the document (there is often whitespace immediately to the right of the document’s title or in between paragraphs).

    screenshot of a PDF title with the whitespace to the right of the title selected

  2. Tag that selected whitespace as a Figure, and copy-paste the Accessibility Statement as the Alternate Text for that Figure. Then reorder the tags so that the one containing the Accessibility Statement is #1 in the reading order.

    screenshot of a PDF title with the whitespace to the right tagged as a figure, in position #1, and with Accessibility Statement

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Step 6 - 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

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Step 7 - 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

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Step 8 - 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.

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Step 9 - Optimization and Compatibility

This step is not required by Section 508, however, without it many visitors will not be able to open the PDF file. You might say that optimizing the file and setting the compatibility makes the document accessible in the truest sense of the word.

Optimizing the PDF will reduce the file size allowing visitors on slower connections (such as dial-up) the opportunity to download the file in a reasonable timeframe.

As of Adobe® Acrobat® v7.0, we are now able to make out PDF files backward compatible. This means that visitors who use Adobe® Acrobat® v5.0 or 6.0 will be able to read files created later versions.

Note: Occasionally, some of the other remediation steps will undo this configuration. For that reason, it is recommended that this take place as one of the last steps in the remediation process.

The following instructions accomplish both goals: optimization and backward compatibility.

  1. Save your file
  2. Open the PDF Optimizer dialog box:
    • » Menu: Advanced > PDF Optimizer
    • In the "Make Compatible with" dropdown list (upper right), select the Acrobat 5.0 and later option
    • Click OK
    • Verify accessibility again. If optimizing the file interfered with previous remediation work:
      • Open the saved file
      • Exclude certain items from the process by unchecking them

        Note: Since optimizing the file is the goal, it is best to exclude as few items as possible. It may take some experimentation to determine which items are causing the issue.

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Step 10 - Redact Personal and Private Information

Redaction is the process of permanently removing information.

PDF files may contain information which should not be published to the Internet, such as signatures or the existence of property owner names and addresses in the same file (property owner names and APNs).

If the file will be published to the Internet, signatures and property owner names might need to be redacted. Please refer to your Department’s policy for redaction of personal and private information. That policy should take County, State, and Federal laws and policies into account.

Important: It is strongly suggested that you save a copy of your PDF file before redacting for the following reasons:

  • Unlike the Comment & Markup process, redaction is a permanent change and cannot be undone.
  • Tagging the file or changing reading order should not be done after redaction.
  1. Save your file
  2. » Menu: Advanced > Redaction > Mark for Redaction

    The cursor will change depending on content type:

    • Text: the cursor will be an "I-beam" (I) and you will be able to select the text by the click and drag method.
    • Images (e.g. containing a signature): the cursor will be a "cross-hairs" (+) that allows you to draw a box around the content.

    If you mark an area for redaction incorrectly, at this point you can undo the change using Edit, Undo or Control-Z.

    If you hover over an area marked for redaction, you will a preview of the final redaction.

  3. » Menu: Advanced > Redaction > Apply Redaction

    A warning dialog box will appear stating that the redaction is a permanent change to the file. Click OK to proceed.

  4. A dialog box will appear asking if you would like to examine the document for additional information.

    If you click Yes, you will have the opportunity to examine metadata and bookmarks to determine if confidential information is contained in these areas. You will also have the opportunity to choose a default action in this dialog box.

  5. Save the redacted file. After redaction, Acrobat® always does a "Save As". This encourages the practice of keeping the original file and a redacted version separately.

Note: Redaction is only available in Adobe® Acrobat® versions 8.0 and higher.

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Link to Adobe® Acrobat®

Per Section 508, paragraph m, we are required to publish a link to the download page for any applications that may be required to open files on our site.

Refer to the top of this page as an example.

Most vendors have specific policy we are expected to follow when linking to their products. Adobe®´s requirements have already been incorporated in this example. For other products, please refer to the vendor´s site for specific permissions, trademark or terms of use policy.

Placement of the Link

This link must be on the page that links to the PDF file.

To prevent the visitor from looking for these links, it should be placed at the top of the page. This also allows the download instructions to be read by screen readers before the visitor has the opportunity to click on the file.

HTML Code for above example

<div id="divDownload">
	<p>Some content on this page is saved in an alternative format. To view these files, download the following free software.</p>
		<li>PDF Documents: <a href="" title="External Link">Get Adobe® Reader®</a></li>

CSS Code for above example

	border: .01em solid #ccc;
	font-size: .8em;
	line-height: 1.3em

#divDownload p
	margin: 0;
	padding: .2em 0 0 0

#divDownload ul
	margin: 0 0 .5em 0;
	padding: 0

#divDownload li
	list-style: none;
	list-style-image: none;
	margin: 0;
	padding: .1em 0 0 0

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Best Practices

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County References

Some content on this page is saved in an alternative format. To view these files, download the following free software.