Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.

Our joint webinar with Adobe and FedInsider in January on PDF document accessibility was a great success! There were so many good questions, but unfortunately only a short period of time to address them.  This blog is the first of a two-part series that will address those questions.  Many thanks to Andrew Kirkpatrick from Adobe and our own Jonathan Avila for answering the participants’ questions.

A couple of relevant links

And now for the Q & A

Q: I keep getting the following error message when I try to make PDFs accessible (native source: Microsoft Word doc): “X element(s) with alternate text but no page content.” The repair hints say to “Find the associated page content and add it to the element with the alternate text.” However, I cannot find the instructions on how to do this.

A: That message means alternative text is indicated on a tag in the tags tree but there is no image/content in the document under the tag. This means the alt text won’t be seen by screen readers.

Q: With regard to setting non-text elements to in line with text, I often find all figures and charts out of order in the PDF tag structure. Is there something else I need to do? (Word 2010 to Acrobat 9)

A: There’s an issue with Word related to this (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2701086). This issue seems to affect both the Word export option and the PDF Maker Save as Adobe PDF option. Use of images wrapped “inline with text” also facilitates users of screen readers by reading the alternative text for images directly within Microsoft Word document.

Q: If you have acronyms in your document that should read as letters but instead read as a word (e.g., COB says Cob); is there a way to automate those or set a “dictionary” so you do not have to manually add expansion text for many references throughout your document?

A: The speech synthesizer controls this. Many assistive technologies such as JAWS and Window-Eyes allow this type of customization, but it is generally regarded as not a good practice to try to tweak the pronunciation with the tags. Tweaking the pronunciation can cause the Braille output to be unintelligible and will sound differently with different speech synthesizers. If the acronym is not pronounced correctly, one option is to use spaces or periods in the expansion text – that way, each letter will be announced automatically. Generally, this is not necessary, but it is a better option than trying to phonetically write it out.

Q: What standards does the accessibility checker work on? WCAG? 508?

A: The checker works on a common set of accessibility issues that are required by 508, WCAG 2.0, and PDF/UA. You can see details about the checks here: http://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/create-verify-pdf-accessibility.html

Q: Is the touch up reading order in version XI as well?

A: Yes, with improvements! The Touch Up Reading Order tool and panel appear in Acrobat Professional versions.

Q: Is there a way to select text in a PDF and have it highlight the associated tag in version XI?

A: You can – select the text and then in the Options menu in the Tags panel, you’ll see “Find tag from selection.” This will highlight the corresponding tag in the Tags panel.

Q: Is there a way to do this automatically whenever any portion of text is selected in the document window? “Find Tag from Selection” is very labor-intensive.

A: We will discuss this with Acrobat team.

Q: Can you recommend a resource for learning to use the tags panel?

A:  http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/acrobat/pdf/acrobat-xi-pdf-accessibility-repair-workflow.pdf is a good source of information on this.

Q: Does Acrobat XI have an undo feature yet?

A: Not for the tags panel, not yet.

Q: For accessibility, is the order of the tags in the Tags Panel more important that the order in the Order Panel?

A: Tag order is what is used by assistive technologies to determine the reading order. Some features of the Read Out Loud tool and Reflow also use the order or items order/content panel. Our recommendation is to ensure that the tags panel is correct. After that, the order of content in the order panel should be evaluated and the impact of order content should be examined with the Read Out Loud and Reflow tools to determine where the order panel must be adjusted.

Q: Are the accessibility features shown here available in Acrobat X Pro or only in XI?

A: Many are available in Acrobat 8/9/X also. The Accessibility action wizard is new in Acrobat XI. There have been improvements to the Touch Up Reading Order tool and to the accessibility checker process in Acrobat XI.

Q: What should be done if the read order in the Order pane does not match the order of the tags in the Tags panel? Which prevails?

A: The order of the tags panel is the most important and must always be correct. The order in the order panel should ideally also be correct, but the impact of its being in the incorrect order will be limited or may not have an impact on users.

Q: Is there a tool for an automatic accessibility (WCAG 2.0) check on PDF docs that can be used with manual assessment?

A: The Accessibility Checker can be set to automatically check a folder or list of documents and create reports using the Create New Action Wizard feature without user prompting.

Q: Will considerations be made for people with dexterity impairments and for people who use speech recognition software, not dismissed in favor of screen reader accessibility?

A: There are number of issues that affect these user groups. For example, using headings allows for the creation of bookmarks, which aids in navigation for people who have dexterity impairments. Additionally, the correct creation of links allows links to be keyboard accessible. Many of the forms related to accessibility requirements were not discussed in this initial webinar due to time constraints. Additionally, features such as reflow and high contrast were discussed, which affect users with cognitive disabilities and users with low vision.

Q: In previous versions of Word the headings structure carried over to PDF only if default headings styles were used. Is this still true?

A: This is fixed. If you have a particular document where this is not the case, please let us know.

Q: Do we still need to create accessible documents when there are no recipients (of documents) who are disabled? Does the law mandate it?

A: It is unclear how you can be assured that no people with disabilities will access the documents. For example, we have customers who claim that their driving test materials will not be used by people with disabilities, so they do not need to be accessible. However, there are many drivers who are colorblind, who have dexterity impairments, who are deaf/hard of hearing, who have cognitive impairments, etc. The current Section 508 requirements address web content, including documents posted to the intranet or Internet by Federal agencies. Without an exception for some other reason such as national security, the documents need to be accessible regardless of who uses them. Practically speaking though, you should prioritize making documents accessible in the order that reduces the amount of risk for your organization and meets the needs of your customers.

Q: Can you please explain what the screen tip button is?

A: The screen tip button in the Hyperlink dialog of Microsoft Word allows users to add a tooltip to links in Word. When the Word document is converted to PDF this text is not displayed and is not accessible. It should not be used to provide required accessibility information.

Q: Will screen readers hear the Alt Text on a hyperlink? So if the link says “Click here” and the Alt Text says “Income Tax Fact Sheet”, which one does the Link List in the screen reader read?

A: It depends on how the hyperlink is structured. If the image has alt text and is a sibling to a text node inside of a parent link element, both will be announced when the link is encountered.

Q: How extensive/fool-proof is that checker?

A: The checker performs 32 different checks. It should be used in support of determining conformance to accessibility requirements but it alone cannot be used to determine conformance to an accessibility standard.

Q: Does the Read Out Loud tool only work with Adobe?

A: Yes, it is a feature of Adobe Acrobat Standard, Professional and Adobe Reader.

Q: Will it work with MS Word?

A: Read Out Loud does not work with MS Word — the NVDA open source screen reader can be used instead.

Q: Can JAWS detect an audio file (mp3, for example) in PDF?

A: If the object is tagged, JAWS can detect it, but the controls for playback will not be accessible. However, you can create links and use them to control audio playback.

Q: Can you specify null alternative text for images, like alt=”” in HTML?

A: Yes, a null value or space in actual text entry for a tag will prevent any text in it or of its descendants from being announced by screen readers.

Q: How much of this is in version 8? I see some of the menus/options 93.

A: There are many improvements in Acrobat since version 8, including options for tables, feature enhancements and additions to the accessibility checker and accessibility wizard. The basics such as the tags panel still exist, and you can use older versions to test and make documents accessible; however, these take more effort and time.

Q: I do a lot of creating PDF forms in Adobe LiveCycle Designer. Is there a way of placing bookmarks on headlines there? (The only way I have found now is to open the document in Acrobat Pro and define the bookmarks there)

A: This Adobe blog post has some information about creating bookmarks in LiveCycle: http://blogs.adobe.com/foxes/creating-bookmark-in-xfa-forms/