Final Steps to Ensuring Accessible PDF Documents blog link.

Paul Rayius

Final Steps to Ensuring Accessible PDF Documents


In this series of articles, we’ve discussed how to identify and address all sorts of PDF accessibility issues including headings, reading order, lists, tables and metadata. In this article we’ll provide some “other things to consider” while you’re making sure your PDFs are accessible.

Learn how assistive technologies (AT) work, so you can make “best practice” decisions.

When teaching PDF remediation classes, I’m often asked, “How will a screen reader read that?” The more you know, the more you can consider, and the better user experiences you can create whether you’re a document designer or remediating PDFs created by others.

Remove Empty Tags.

Empty tags can be annoying or even problematic, especially for people using AT (some screen readers will say “Blank” for every empty tag). While, in general, you want to make sure you delete empty tags, an exception to this rule would be if you need empty cells in your data tables to keep them “regularly shaped.”

Tip: CommonLook PDF will automatically – and safely – remove empty tags, without messing up your data tables!

Set the Tab Order to follow the document structure for pages that have link and/or form annotations.

Tip: The Fix Wizard in CommonLook PDF will do this for you automatically!

Add the <Document> tag.

Why? It indicates that “This is one full and complete document.”

Tip:  You can easily do this in CommonLook PDF!

Create bookmarks to match the headings in the document.

When people are using AT like screen readers, headings provide not only structural information but a means for faster and more efficient navigation through a document. Bookmarks provide that same navigation for people who are looking at a PDF. When the Bookmarks and the Headings match, people get consistent navigation regardless of how they’re reading the document!

Tip: Creating Bookmarks to match the headings can be done automatically in CommonLook PDF!

Run an accessibility check. Test against the standards.

ISO 32000-1:2008 is the currently used standard for how to make a PDF. Accessibility standards include WCAG 2.0/ 2.1 (WCAG 2.0 is also the revised Section 508 standard), PDF/UA (ISO 14289-1) and/or HHS 2018 (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, revised standard as of 2018).

Note:  The Acrobat Full Check doesn’t test against, or guarantee compliance with, any of the accessibility standards mentioned above. The PAC 3 checker will test against PDF/UA but doesn’t make you address any of the “manual verification components” like accuracy of Alternative text.

CommonLook PDF will test against all of the standards
, including prompting you to do the necessary manual checks, for complete accessibility/compliance.

Create an accessibility report so you can show how you handled the standards and checkpoints.

While Acrobat doesn’t test against any of the accessibility standards mentioned, it *will* let you generate a compliance report. The PAC 3 checker will also allow you to save a report as a PDF. (Oftentimes, however, their own generated PDF report, when tested by PAC 3 itself, is found to be failing the PDF/UA standard!)

Tip:  CommonLook PDF will allow you to generate a compliance report, in accessible HTML, listing every checkpoint in the standard(s) chosen for testing and indicating the status of those checkpoints – whether they’ve passed, failed, require user verification, or prompt a warning. (Of course, if you’re remediating the document, you’ll want to address all of the failures, “User Verification” items, and “Warnings!”)

Oftentimes, as they say, the devil is in the details. So, we’ve developed a PDF Remediation Workflow Checklist to help you remember all of these “other” things.

We hope this article has provided a helpful reminder of some of the details that might otherwise be overlooked during a PDF remediation project. For more information, visit our website at or send an email to