Los Angeles InDesign User Group

Creating Accessible PDF Files from InDesign for People with Disabilities

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Carson Center, Carson, California

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By Alvin Takamori


The third Thursday of every other month, the Los Angeles InDesign User Group organizes a meeting somewhere in the greater Los Angeles area. In March the location was the Carson Center. It was a nice facility with ample parking and spacious rooms; maybe it was just those high ceilings. Sitting at the round tables it felt more like a café than a meeting room.


After the welcoming remarks by one of our Chapter Representatives, DeShawn Burton, there was a short introduction to Future Media Concepts, a nationwide digital media training company. They have training courses in App Development, 3D software like Maya, computer languages like Linux, and all the Adobe software programs…like InDesign. Courses can be expensive, so it was kind of them to raffle off a 3 day course at the end of the meeting.


Our guest presenter for the evening was Becky Tubbs, a graphic designer and production coordinator in the College of Continuing and Professional Education at CSU Long Beach.


The presentation had a rough start with some technical difficulties between the presenter’s laptop and the Carson Center projection system. Once that was worked out Becky showed us links to information about Section 508, which is an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 508 requires web content to be made accessible to people with disabilities. The rest of Becky’s talk was a demonstration of how to create a document, which is ADA compliant.


Becky provided a useful handout that details the steps to creating an accessible PDF file. Her basic process is to create a document in InDesign, then export it to Acrobat where the Read Out Loud feature converts the document to audio. The reason she starts in InDesign is because it’s easier to make changes in the InDesign file, if the document needs to be updated.


A key to creating an accessible PDF is to organize the document. Think about the elements on the page. What is the primary header? What groups of text are sub-headers and what is body text? Are there images that need to be described? Decide which elements should have priority and arrange everything in separate layers, with the most important information in the bottom layer.


The next step is to Tag each element of the document. Tags are labels that identify each item. Elements can be tagged as a header, different levels of sub-headers, paragraphs, etc. Becky’s handout explains two methods for Tagging a document. In the first one, you go to the View menu of InDesign and select Show Structure. In the Structure panel select Add Untagged Items. Using the Tags panel, edit the Tags. If there are elements that you   want to be ignored, tag them as an Artifact. Graphics can be tagged as Figures and alternate text for the graphic can be added. In the second method, you open the Articles panel and drag elements from the document into the pallet in the order they should be read.


Go to the Hyperlinks panel to add any URL’s or addresses. Add a title and any metadata. Tables can be tricky. A listener needs to know which row information corresponds to which column. So it’s best to keep tables simple. Table rows can be converted to headers if needed.


Before exporting a Tagged file to Acrobat, go to File Info and fill in the Document Title box. Then under the File menu, select Adobe PDF Presets and Define a preset for Tagged PDF files based on the Smallest File Size. The settings are in Becky’s handout.


Once the file is exported as a Tagged PDF it can be checked in Acrobat to make sure it works. Go to Tools/Accessibility/Full Check. After checking, a report is generated indicating any errors. A message that Illogical Reading Order Needs Manual Check is normal. Hyperlinks should also be checked.  If necessary, go back to InDesign to correct any errors and create a new PDF.


If everything is okay, go to File/Properties and name the file and select the magnification and the language. The specific steps are listed in the handout from Becky. She also explains the steps to set the tab order and check the reading order and adjust it if needed. A key tip is to move items in the order panel only a few steps at a time. Otherwise, the program might crash.


Add alternate text for graphics and Tag any table cells if they need it.  For alternate text, separating unknown words into syllables can improve the computer audio reading. Also don’t type any special characters or soft returns.


To listen to the document, select View/Read Out Loud/Activate Read Out Loud, then choose Read This Page Only or Read to End of Document. Listen to the reading of the document. If it needs editing, turn off the Read Out Loud feature, otherwise when changes are made, the program tends to crash.


For someone unfamiliar with creating accessible PDFs for people with disabilities, the panels, tabs, menus and commands that are used in the process seem alien and the process can sound confusing. As Becky quickly demonstrated the various steps of the process at the meeting, it was easy to lose track of the big picture. Basically, what was the purpose of certain groups of steps? It was also easy to be overwhelmed by so many unfamiliar steps. Thankfully, the handout she distributed was very helpful. Even if you don’t understand all the details, at least you are introduced to the idea and process of creating documents that the disabled can access.



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