What are PDF tags?

Tags are the basis for accessibility within a PDF. Without proper tags there is no accessibility. Tag elements provide semantic information for screen readers, control the reading order, and other important functions. An important first step is to determine if your PDF has tags. Review this post to find out if your document has tags.

Why do PDF tags matter?

Assistive technology will read tags and use them as a method for navigating larger documents. A tagged PDF is essential for those with visual disabilities and anyone who is using assistive technology like JAWS or NVDA.

PDF tags make it possible to identify content like headings, lists, links, tables, forms, and other important features. Not all programs can export a tagged PDF – so make sure you are using the right tools!

Sample screenshot of tags panel

Sample screenshot of the tags panel

Video overview of PDF Tags

Tag Relationships

Tags come in a pair and can sometimes be referred to as a Parent-Child relationships. In the example below the Figure tag is the parent tag and image container is the Child tag.

Every parent tag will have a child tag. This is useful for moving tags around in the tags panel.

The PDF Tags breakdown

If a tag is not properly categorized it will fail accessibility checks and be confusing to its users. Adding tags does not change the visual appearance of the document; it provides invisible layer of formatting within the document that works with screen readers. PDF tags also allows the content to reflow seamlessly on devices with smaller screens, like smartphones and tablets. Here is a brief explanation of what each tag represents:

<P>

The P tag is the most basic and universal tag. This tag is used as body text.

<H1> <H2> <H3> <H4> <H5> <H6>

These are heading tags. Most documents will have a single H1 tag, but larger documents could contain more. Modern assistive technology can recognize up to six heaving levels. Always use headings in order. Think of them like an outline.

  1. The Parent Tag <H1>
  2. The child tag (container)
  3. The content the tag is referencing (content on page)
The Parent Tag <H1>
The child tag (container)
The content the tag is referencing (content on page)

pdf tags

<L> <LI> <Lbl> <LBody>

List elements contain a specific structure. These tags represent the structure of accessible lists. Some accessibility guidelines require the use of Lbl and other guidelines do not.

  1. List Parent Tag <L>
  2. List Item Child Tag <LI>
  3. Label <Lbl>
  4. List Body child Tag <LBody>
  5. Contents of First list item
  6. List item content on page
List Parent Tag <L>
List Item Child Tag <LI>
Label <Lbl>
List Body child Tag <LBody>
Contents of First list item
List item content on page


pdf tags

<Figure>

The figure tag represents any and all images. At this time the figure tag is used for all graphics within a PDF.

  1. <Figure> is a parent tag
  2. The Image is a child tag (container)
  3. The image as content on page
<Figure> is a parent tag

The Image is a child tag (container)

The image as content on page

<Table> <TR> <TH> <TD>

Reading plain text is an easy task for assistive technologies. A table of data presents a complex more task. Proper PDF tag structure makes this possible by identifying essential information including the number of rows and columns as well as column (or row) headers, and which heading each data entry corresponds to. The more complex a table is, the more significant the challenge to tag it correctly.

  1. Table Parent Tag <Table>
  2. Table Row Child tag <TR>
  3. Table Header Cell <TH>
  4. Table Data Cell <TD>
  5. Table on Page
Table Parent Tag <Table>
Table Row Child tag <TR>
Table Header Cell <TH>
Table Data Cell <TD>
Table on Page

<Link>, Link – OBJR

Every link tag needs a Link-OBJR tag.

  1. Parent tag <P>
  2. Link Tag <Link>
  3. Link Reference Object
  4. The link Text on screen
  5. Content on page
Parent tag <P>
Link Tag <Link>
Link Reference Object 
The link Text on screen
Content on page

<Reference> & <Note>

Reference and Note tags are up for interpretation but are commonly used within PDFs to “visually” break content apart.

Reading Order

An accessible PDF provides the instructions to the assistive technologies such as screen readers to read the content properly and in the correct order. The tag order within the tag tree will determine the reading order of the document. For documents without this logical structure, the best case would be that assistive technologies would guess at the correct order that the content should be presented in. In worst cases, the content would be completely unable to be read. The outcome is that the content becomes useless to the user.

How do I apply tags to a document?

There are multiple methods to apply tags to a document. The most common methods are:

Advanced Tag Breakdown

The following is a detailed breakdown of available tag structure within a pdf. It has been adapted from https://accessible-pdf.info/basics/general/overview-of-the-pdf-tags

Grouping elements

PDF tagSemantic meaningPossible and semantically meaningful parent elementsPossible and semantically meaningful child elements
DocumentRepresents a complete documentGrouping elements, Block-level structure elements
PartDivision of a larger document into smaller, associated partsDocumentArtSectDivBlockQuoteCaptionTOCIndex
ArtParts of content which together are conclusive, i.e. an article or part of a documentDocumentPartSectDivBlockQuoteSectDivBlockQuoteCaptionTOCIndex
SectGrouped related content parts, for example several paragraphs, which can be combined into a groupDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteArtSectDivBlockQuoteCaptionTOCIndex
DivGeneric group element without semantic meaningDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteArtSectDivBlockQuoteCaptionTOCIndex
BlockQuoteOne or more paragraphs that originate from another author, in other words, that have been quotedDocumentPartArtSectDivArtSectDivCaption
CaptionA caption to describe for example a picture or a tableDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteTableLSectDivBlockQuote
TOCContainer for table of contents entries. Can be used either as a flat hierarchy (all contained TOCI on one level) or as a complex hierarchy (TOC within a TOCI as a subgroup). Can be contained multiple times in a document, since it can also be used for image or table directories.DocumentPartArtSectDivTOCI
TOCIEntry within a table of contents (TOC).TOCTOCPLblReference
IndexContainer for a subject indexDocumentPartArtSectDivL

Block-level structure elements

Paragraph elements

PDF tagSemantic meaningPossible and semantically meaningful parent elementsPossible and semantically meaningful child elements
POrdinary paragraphDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteCaptionTOCIInline-level structure elements
H1H2H3H4H5H6Hierarchical headings on levels 1 to 6DocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteInline-level structure elements

List elements

PDF tagSemantic meaningPossible and semantically meaningful parent elementsPossible and semantically meaningful child elements
LList container; groups together all list elements that belong togetherDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteIndexLICaption
LIContainer of a list entry; can contain an L to create multi-level listsLLblLBodyL
LblComes from the term “label” and represents the numbering or bullet character within a list. It’s not actually a block-level structure element and can also be used in other elements such as TOCI or Caption.LI
LBodyContains the contents of a list entryLIInline-level structure elements

Table elements

PDF tagSemantic meaningPossible and semantically meaningful parent elementsPossible and semantically meaningful child elements
TableTable container; combines all related table elementsDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuoteTRCaptionTHeadTBodyTFoot
TRGroups a table rowTableTHeadTBodyTFootTHTD
THTable heading cell; describes the meaning either at horizontal (line) or vertical (column) levelTRInline-level structure elements
TDOrdinary table data cellsTRInline-level structure elements
THeadA group of table rows (TR) to mark them as table header; can be used optionallyTableTR
TBodyA group of table rows (TR) to mark them as table content; can be used optionallyTableTR
TFootA group of table rows (TR) to mark them as table footer; can be used optionallyTableTR

Inline-level structure elements

PDF tagSemantic meaningPossible and semantically meaningful parent elementsPossible and semantically meaningful child elements
SpanGeneric container without semantic meaning; is used, among other things, for visual markups, language changes or for adding ActualText (e.g. for ignoring hyphens)PH1H6LBodyTDQuoteNote
QuoteUsed like BlockQuote for quoted content; however, Quote is used at line levelPH1H6LBodyTDSpan
NoteFootnote or endnote text (not the reference character in the body text). The footer/end-note character within Note and Reference will be placed in a Lbl.PH1H6LBodyTDLblPSpan
ReferenceRefers to another place in the document, e.g. footnote or directory entryPH1H6LBodyTDLbl
CodeMarking of programming languagePH1H6LBodyTD
LinkLink to a web page or to a place within the documentPH1H6LBodyTD
AnnotAnnotations that are not a link or a widget (form field), like comments and videos.PH1H6LBodyTD

Illustration graphic elements

PDF tagSemantic meaningPossible and semantically meaningful parent elementsPossible and semantically meaningful child elements
FigurePhoto or graphicDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuotePLBodyTD
FormulaMathematical formulaDocumentPartArtSectDivBlockQuotePH1H6LBodyTD
FormForm elementDocumentPartArtSectDivPTD

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How to use the accessibility checker in Microsoft Word

The accessibility checker is a great tool to use AFTER you have already implemented accessibility principles into your MS Word document. For a refresh on that – review the Microsoft Word Accessibility page.

The accessibility checker in Microsoft Word is a great tool for identifying color contrast errors, finding images that do not have alternate text, and applying table headers.

Do not rely on the accessibility checker for compliance. Use it as a tool to verify your work.

The Accessibility Guy

Video overview of how to use the accessibility checker in Microsoft Word

Text Directions of using the accessibility checker in Microsoft Word

  1. Select the Review tab
  2. Select Check accessibility
  3. Review the errors and fix
Select Review

Select Check accessibility

Review the errors and fix

Common pitfalls of the accessibility checker in Microsoft Word

The accessibility checker cannot determine the following elements on its own:

  • Document that has headings applied
  • Unformatted links
  • Use of footnotes
  • Improper use of alternate text

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Scan and OCR a PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Do you ever have an image in your PDF that you need to OCR and make text? Adobe Acrobat has a feature called Scan and OCR which can do just that. This is useful for when you have a scanned image or poor-quality PDF.

Best practice

Try to avoid using images of text as this is a direct violation of accessibility guidelines. This is why the Scan and OCR feature is useful.

Video Overview of how to use the Scan and OCR feature in Adobe Acrobat

Text Overview of how to use the Scan and OCR feature

  1. Select the scan and ocr tool
  2. Select recognize text in this file
  3. Select recognize text
Select the scan and ocr tool

Select recognize text in this file

Select recognize text

How do I test to make sure that it worked?

The best method to ensure that your Scan and OCR worked is to try and copy and paste the text into another program. This will tell you that the OCR took place and will allow you to check for accuracy.

Are there any better OCR programs?

Adobe Acrobats OCR tool is not the best when it comes to accuracy. If you are using OCR for textbooks or high quantities of documents, id refer you to check out Abbyy FineReader. Lucky for you – I have a bunch of videos about this program too.

Need additional help on accessible PDFs? Review the links below

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How do I make tables accessible in Microsoft Word?

It’s easy to make tables accessible in Microsoft Word! This means that every table should have a table header set, a style applied, and appropriate settings set.

Video Overview of how to make tables accessible in Microsoft Word

Tips on working with Tables

  • Avoid using merged cells when possible. There is no way to apply scope to table headers in Microsoft Word like you can in PDF. So if your doc is staying in Word – avoid merged cells
  • Do not use tables to format content. There are more accessible methods for formatting content like using headings or applying columns to text.
  • Tables should be used to display important data
  • Add a caption to the table

Table Accessibility Checklist:

  • Ensure the table has a header row and in some cases a column header
  • Set “repeat row across pages” for tables that span more than one page
  • Apply a table style
  • Table does not have any merged cells

How to set the row / column header

These settings might change depending on the type of data you are working with. Some tables will have first column or total row while others will not.

  1. Select the table
  2. Select table Design
  3. Set the appropriate Header Row / First Column selections
Select the table

Select table Design

Set the appropriate Header Row / First Column selections

How to set a Table Style

A table style simply changes the visual layout of the table. It will sometimes make the heading cells bold and a little easier to identify.

  1. Select the table
  2. Select table design
  3. Choose a table style
How to set a Table Style

Select the table

Select table design

Choose a table style

How to set other table properties

The additional table properties will update based on how much data is in the table. Tables that span multiple pages may require testing of different settings to ensure proper accessibility.

  1. Select the first row in the table
  2. Right click and open the properties menu
  3. Select Row
  4. Select “repeat as header row” on the first row
Select the first row in the table

Right click and open the properties menu

Select Row

Select "repeat as header row" on the first row

How to add a table caption

A table caption helps the user quickly identify the purpose of this table and can be used to create a table of contents in Microsoft Word.

  1. Right click the table
  2. Select insert caption
  3. Add a name to the caption
  4. Select Ok
Right click the table

Select insert caption

Add a name to the caption

Select Ok
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List items in Microsoft Word?

There are lots of ways to format list items in Microsoft Word incorrectly – this post will cover the right ways to do it!

The type of list that you choose is important! A bulleted list or unordered list is used for items that have no particular order. These could be things like items to get at a grocery store, for example:

  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Eggs

Whereas, numbered list items should be used when the order is important. For example:

  1. Get into your car
  2. Turn it on
  3. Drive to the store

If a list is not structured appropriately then there is a high chance that anyone using a screen reader will have difficulty engaging with the content.

Video overview of how to apply list items in Microsoft Word

This video will walk users through how to apply list items, edit list items, and change the way list items look.

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Text overview for how to apply a list item in Microsoft Word

  1. Select the text that you want to make into a list.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, select the Number or Bullets list icon.
Select the text that you want to make into a list.

On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, select the Number or Bullets list icon

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How do I apply headings to my Microsoft Word doc?

Headings help with general navigation and are a key component in creating accessible documents. Those who use screen readers commonly search and navigate a document based on its heading structure.

Headings that are created by simply enlarging words and making them a different color do not actually make them structurally a heading. So make sure you are using styles that are built into Microsoft word.

There are of course some quick rules for using headings:

  • Use at least one H1 – used as the title (The title style is not recognized by a screen reader!)
  • All H2’s should be subtopics to the main H1
  • Headings should not skip order. There should not be an H4 without an H3 first
  • Think of headings like using and building an outline.

Dont love the way the default headings look? You change em’

Video Overview of how to apply headings to a Microsoft word document

Need more Video walkthroughs? Check out The Accessibility Guy YouTube channel

Headings Navigation

When I start to apply headings to a document I always like to start by opening the navigation pane and then selecting the headings tab. On windows, this can be opened by pressing CNTRL + F on the keyboard.

Open up the navigation pane

The image above is a great example of how to use headings to build an outline for all of your content.

Text Overview on how to apply headings to a Microsoft word document

  1. Select some text
  2. Choose a style from the quick styles menu from the home tab
Select some text

Choose a style from the quick styles menu from the home tab

Go through the rest of the document and apply the styles throughout!

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How do I convert my Word document to PDF?

Im not sure I could keep count of the number of times I have been asked this question so here is a whole post dedicated to the topic!

Do not use the print to pdf function in MS Word. This will overwrite all of your hard work that you did in MS Word.

The Accessibility Guy

If you properly format your word document – you can export an almost perfect PDF file that will be close to passing accessibility requirements. By making a word document accessible, you can cut the time to remediate a PDF by more than 90%. Need some guidance on how to make Word documents accessible? The image below is a link to the Microsoft Word accessibility page.

Video Overview of how to convert from Word to PDF and retain the structure

Text Overview for how to set settings for export from Word to PDF

Step 1

Ensure that your word document is fully accessible. This page will walk you through all the steps required for making a word document accessible.

Step 2

Select File > Export > Create XPS / PDF Document

File export create pdf/xps

Step 3

Select the options button to adjust settings before selecting publish. These options will ensure that you are exporting a tagged pdf.

select options

Step 4

Adjust the options to reflect the following:

  • Page range set to all
  • Publish what set to Document
  • Include non-printing information has all three checkboxes selected
Page range set to all

Publish what set to Document

Include non-printing information has all three checkboxes selected

Now validate

Open up your PDF and ensure there are tags in the document.

That’s it!

Now you can begin making your PDF document accessible which is much easier if starting with a word document.

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How to hide a slide title

Since every slide must have a title it may interfere with the layout of your slide so instead of deleting the title, there is an option to hide the title. This will provide easy navigation while providing you with design freedom for your slide by visually hiding the title.

Video overview of how to hide a slide title in PowerPoint

This video will walk users through how to hide a slide title

Text Overview of how to hide a slide title

Open up the arrange panel

open the arrange panel

Under the selection area, choose which content you want to hide

Marking content invisible on a slide

Validating the order in the Arrange Panel

After you set the order in the Reading Order pane, ensure everything is also correct in the arrange panel. The arrange panel is in reverse, so the first item that will read is the one on the bottom. To get to the arrange panel – follow these steps:

  1. On the Home ribbon select the arrange button
  2. Select the Selection pane
On the Home ribbon select the arrange button
Select the Selection pane

Select the view icon next to the title to hide it

This will hide the title from the slide but maintain the accessibility

Hide a slide title
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How do I make tables accessible in Canvas?

Making tables accessible in Canvas can be easy if you set them up correctly! Using tables for layout purposes should be avoided. Use tables for displaying data only and use Headers and Scope. This is because assistive technology uses specialized controls when in a table.

Data tables should always include table headers (the <th> element). For short tables and for tables whose data are self-explanatory, column headers are sufficient. For long tables or tables where data may be confusing, it is best to include row and column headers. <th> elements should always have a scope attribute. Column headers should include scope=”col”, and row headers should include scope=”row”. Including scope attributes allow assistive technology to better understand the logical relationships presented in the table.

Use Table Captions

Tables can be given an accessible name with the <caption> element. Screen readers allow users to view a list of tables on the page. If the table has an accessible name, a screen reader will provide that name to the user. If not, the screen reader may only read the number of rows and columns. Thus, a <caption> provides substantial usability benefits, especially if there is more than one table on the page. <caption> elements are visible to sighted users as well.

Avoid Complex Tables

We recommend avoiding tables with multiple levels of row or column headers and headers that span multiple rows or columns. Such tables may be difficult to implement with the correct markup and scope attributes, and even if implemented correctly, may be difficult for users to understand. In most cases, some other presentation of the data, including presenting multiple tables, may be an equally effective alternative to a single, complex table.

Avoid Empty Cells for Formatting

Table authors may choose to use empty cells to visually format the table, such as to indicate a division in various sections of the table. While this practice may make sense for sighted users, it may not work for blind users. We recommend avoiding blank table cells, especially when those table cells are used for formatting.

Things to consider when making tables accessible in Canvas

  • Avoid using tables for layout purposes
  • Use simple tables
  • Set table headers for both columns and rows
  • Pay attention to the scope of headers
  • Add a clear caption using the accessibility checker

Video Overview of how to make tables accessible in Canvas

Instructional Guide – How to make tables accessible in Canvas

Step 1: Ensure you are in edit mode

ensure you are in edit mode

Step 2: Select inside the cell you want to make a heading

You can set both an individual cell or an entire row as a header at once

Step 3a – Setting an entire row: Select Table button in the rich content editor > Row > Row Properties

Step 3a – Setting an entire row: Select Table button in the rich content editor > Row > Row Properties

Step 4a – Change the row type from body to header

Step 4a – Change the row type from body to header

Step 3b – Setting an individual cell as a header cell: Select Table > Cell > Cell Properties

Step 3b – Setting an individual cell as a header cell: Select Table > Cell > Cell Properties

Step 4b – Change the cell type to Header Cell and set the scope to what is appropriate

Step 4b – Change the cell type to Header Cell and set the scope to what is appropriate

Step 5: Run the accessibility checker found in the bottom right corner of the page

Step 5: Run the accessibility checker found in the bottom right corner of the page

Step 6: Add the caption through the pop-up window

Step 6: Add the caption through the pop up window
Canvas LMS
How do I make my Canvas page accessible?

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How do I apply accessible hyperlinks in Canvas?

While screen readers can read a full page to a user, screen reader users may prefer to instead listen to a list of links. In that case, a screen reader may only read the link text and not the surrounding text. Accessible hyperlinks in Canvas assist with navigation.

Speech recognition software allows a user to avoid using a mouse. Users can speak the text of the link that they would like to follow.

Keyboard-only users may not be able to use a mouse to click links. They use a keyboard’s tab button to navigate through a page’s links, buttons, and form inputs. For such users, it is very important for them to see which item has a focus on at all times.

Colorblind users may not be able to perceive color cues. Typically, pages present links as a different color than their surrounding text. Adding underlines or other non-color indicators help users who may not see color. Users who are not comfortable with technology may also appreciate having links underlined.

Links should be clear and easy to understand.

The below image has two separate sites pulled up using JAWS while searching for links. The image on the left indicated the incorrect way to use links and includes link text for the full HTML URL and several wrong examples like “click here”. The image on the right represents a correct link list that uses correct link text that is descriptive and clear.

The below image has two separate sites pulled up using JAWS while searching for links. The image on the left indicated the incorrect way to use links and includes link text for the full HTML url and several wrong examples like “click here”. The image on the right represents a correct link list that uses correct link text that is descriptive and clear.

In general, content editors should avoid using images as links. If an image functions as a link, the image must have alt text that conveys the location and purpose of the link. The alt text should not describe the image. Treat image links as links, not as images.

  • Avoid link text like “Click Here,” “More,” and “Read More.” These kinds of links can be confusing when a screen reader reads them out of context.
  • Avoid using full html address: www.shawnjordison.com and instead use Check out Shawn Jordisons guide
  • Non-hypertext elements should refrain from using underlines as they can confuse sighted students who expect underlined text to be a link
  • Use judgment when linking full URLs. When linking a URL, consider users who must speak it out loud and who must listen to a screen reader announce it.

Video overview of how to apply accessible hyperlinks in Canvas

Step 1: Ensure you are in edit mode

ensure you are in edit mode
Step 2: Select the text or link you would like to edit and select link options
Canvas LMS
How do I make my Canvas page accessible?

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