PDF Remediation: Why Reading Order Matters as Much as Tagging

Published February 12, 2024

In the digital age, accessibility to electronic documents is paramount. PDF (Portable Document Format) files are widely used for sharing and presenting information. However, to ensure that PDFs are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, logical reading order and tagging must be considered. This article delves into the significance of PDF remediation, focusing on logical reading order and tagging.

Understanding PDF remediation

PDF remediation plays a critical role in enhancing the accessibility of documents. It involves modifying content so that assistive technologies can effectively interpret and present it to users. This process evaluates and restructures documents to comply with accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Essential elements of an accessible PDF document include alternative text for images, properly tagged headings and lists, accessible form fields, and a logical reading order.

Failure to remediate PDFs can result in barriers for individuals with visual or cognitive impairments, limiting their ability to access the information in the documents.

Tagging

A fundamental aspect of PDF remediation is tagging. Tagging involves using structural elements to identify the different parts of a document, such as headings, paragraphs, and lists. These tags provide a way for assistive technologies to interpret and present the content meaningfully to users. With tagging, users who rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies may be able to navigate the document efficiently.

An effective remediation strategy encompasses a range of techniques and considerations beyond tagging to ensure comprehensive accessibility.

Logical Reading Order

In PDF document remediation, the reading order is the sequence in which assistive technology interprets text, images, and other content elements. An intuitive reading order ensures that content is accessible logically and sequentially, mirroring its intended flow. This aspect is particularly important for devices like screen readers, which rely on the established order to narrate the content to users with visual impairments accurately.

An inaccurate reading order can significantly disrupt the user experience, leading to confusion and misinterpretation. For example, in a PDF of a scholarly article with citations and references, if the reading order erroneously places the reference list (normally at the end) between introductory paragraphs, it interrupts the logical flow of the text. 

This error can cause readers using screen readers to encounter citations before they understand the related context or argument. Such disorganization not only confuses readers but also compromises the coherence and logical progression of the article, highlighting the importance of precise control over reading order in maintaining the document's academic integrity and readability.

Best Practices for PDF Remediation

It is important to thoroughly understand the document's structure when remediating a PDF to include an intuitive reading order. Remediators should review the content to identify key sections, such as headings, paragraphs, images, and tables. 

Adobe Acrobat Pro is a recommended tool for tagging and repairing PDFs for accessibility. It allows for adding tags to untagged documents and provides features for evaluating and fixing the document's reading order and accessibility errors.

In Adobe Acrobat, the Reading Order tool provides a way to create tags in untagged PDFs or add new tags to an existing document. It allows users to select a page region containing a specific type of content and then set the tag using the Reading Order dialog.

Testing the document with screen reading software is another helpful way to check if the content follows a natural order. Adjustments may be necessary based on this feedback. Additionally, seeking feedback from testers who use screen readers can provide valuable insights into the intuitiveness of the reading order.

Sometimes, content creators and business owners don’t have the time to go through and remediate the reading order of all their old PDFs. Such businesses may then find value in outsourcing to third-party PDF remediation services.

How reading order and tagging work together

None of this suggests that reading order is more important than tagging in PDF remediation. They complement one another to make PDFs more accessible. 

A document with a logical reading order but inadequate tagging can challenge assistive technology users, who may need help deciphering the structure and importance of untagged elements. Similarly, a well-tagged document can still disorient users if its reading order is incorrect and doesn't follow a logical sequence.

The key to creating fully accessible PDFs is ensuring the accurate implementation of reading order and tagging. This dual approach guarantees accessibility for all users, enabling them to access, navigate, and understand the content as intended. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, PDF remediation is essential for making electronic documents accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. By prioritizing aspects such as logical reading order and tagging, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and ensure their information is available to a wider audience. Embracing the principles of accessibility not only benefits those with disabilities but also enhances the overall usability and quality of digital content.

While tagging structures content for assistive technologies, a logical reading order ensures clarity and coherence for screen reader users. The synergy between tagging and reading order is crucial, underlining the need for a holistic approach to PDF accessibility. 

By adhering to best practices and understanding the importance of logical reading order and tagging in PDF remediation, organizations can contribute to a more inclusive digital environment.

 

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