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 Adobe InDesign CC to PDF/Adobe Acrobat Pro DC (MAC)

 Information on maintaining accessibility in PDF files created in Adobe InDesign to Adobe Acrobat PDF.

As a designer, translating InDesign layouts to an electronic PDF that a screen reader can read is sometimes an exercise in problem solving. The main thing to be aware of: when you set up a document to export to Adobe Acrobat Pro, you must order the layers opposite to what you are used to. Don’t worry—once you get this method down, you will be able to create PDFs from InDesign with relative ease. It just takes a little practice!

Tips for the design phase:
    •   Use "threaded text" - this will help with defining reading order
    •   Use paragraph styles - this can help with tagging
    •   Check color contrast with a contrast checker, or design with an AA or AAA verified color palette


Start with a final design layout in Adobe InDesign CC:

Image 1 Final design layout of the “Accessible Presentations Example” in Adobe InDesign.

1.  Open the “Layers” palette (Window > Layers) - this will show all items in the layout

2.  If all the elements in your layout are not showing, scroll open the arrow next to “Layer 1” in your Layers palette:


Image 2 Layers Palette in Adobe InDesign; special emphasis given to the arrow symbol next to the words "Layer 1".

3.   Ungroup any and all groups - this will allow you to move items into the proper order without visibility issues (Object > Ungroup)


Image 3 Design object selected in InDesign illustrating a "grouped" set of objects; File menu choice Object > Ungroup is highlighted to show how to ungroup a set of objects.


Tag all content 

       o    NOTE: if you do not see any tags in the tag panel, you may have to create your own tags. . Be sure to use standard XML tags

       o   The most common tags and what they tell the screen reader are:
              Artifact - background image with visual information only; ignore
              Figure - image with visual content; alt description will be read aloud
              H1 - the main idea of the page
              H2 - the main idea that falls under H1
              H3 - the main idea that falls under H2
              P - story or body text
              Table - tabular data organized into a simple table
              Root - all of the main document

      o    For more information, visit InDesign's User Guide: Tag Page Items

4.   Manual Tagging

       o   Open Tags Panel (Window>Utilities>Tags)


Image 4 Tags panel in InDesign populated with standard tags.

    NOTE: You may need to add the tags Artifact, Figure, H1, H2, H3, P, Table, Root into your tags panel using the “New Tag” button at the bottom of
         the tags panel (the second icon from the left that looks like a paper with a corner turned down.)


Image 5 Tags panel in InDesign; Emphasis on the "New Tag" button.

    o   Select object in the document layout (Here, the large image containing the slide layout is selected)


Image 6 Accessible Presentations Example in InDesign with slide layout object highlighted for emphasis.

     o   Select a tag (You may have to scroll down in the tag list; the tag “Figure” was chosen.) Your object is now tagged.


Image 7 Accessible Presentations Example in InDesign; emphasis on slide layout object and "Figure" tag selection.

     o    Repeat for all objects on page (Even items that are purely decorative e.g., rectangles, arrows, etc. need a tag)

       NOTE: Your document will have multicolored frames on each object when complete. To hide these, choose View>Structure>Hide Tagged Frames; to show them again, choose View>Structure>Show Tagged Frames


Image 8 File menu in Adobe InDesign; the "Show Tagged Frames" or "Hide Tagged Frames" selection will turn object tag frames on or off.

5.  Automatic Tagging

   This is an alternative way to tag items. For this tutorial, we will use the manual tagging method. If you are interested in the automatic tagging process, visit the InDesign User Guide: Add structure to PDFs


Add alternative descriptions to images (Figures)

6.  Select a tagged figure in your document

7.  Choose Object>Object Export Options…


Image 9 InDesign file menu; select "Object Export Options" in the "Object" menu to add alternative descriptions for screen readers.

8.   Select the heading “Alt Text” in the popup window

9.   Select “Custom” from the dropdown menu


Image 10 Object Export Options dialogue box in InDesign; use the drop-down menu under the Alt Text tab to choose "Custom".

10.  Type an appropriate description in the grey box


Image 11 Object Export Options Dialogue Box in InDesign; An appropriate alt text is written in the text field box for the selected figure.

     o  NOTE: Items tagged as “Artifact” do not need an alt description


Adjust Layer Order

     o   You will need to reorder the items in your Layers Palette in two ways:

          •   To preserve the appearance in layering your objects AND

          •   To reflect the reading order of the document, or the order in which the words are read aloud by the screen reader.

          •   It can be helpful to think of your document in larger layers: background, mid-level, and top level.

11.  Organizing for design layers

       o     Open Layers Palette (Window>Layers)

       o     Place all background images (Artifacts) at the bottom of the layers palette (TIP: If you select an object, the indicator square on that layer in the layers 
              palette will highlight, making it easy to see which layer you need to move.)

             •    In this example, the grey and black rectangles are background elements


Image 12 Accessible Presentations Example layout in InDesign with only the two background layers turned on;  emphasizes which elements are in the background layers.

     o  Place all mid-level objects on top of the background images in the layers palette

           In this example, the images of the slide, speaker’s notes, the header and the two logos are mid-level objects


Image 13 Accessible Presentations Example layout with the slide, UC logo, program mark and Heading 1 turned on; emphasizes the elements in the middle layer.

       o    Place all top-level images at the top of the layers palette

         •   In this example, all the callout boxes, text and accessibility checker image are in the top layer


Image 14 Accessible Presentations Example layout with callout boxes, text and accessibility checker image layers turned on; emphasizes the elements in the top layer of the document.

       o   When you are finished, your layout should look exactly the same as when you created it.


Image 15 Accessible Presentations Example document illustrating that while the layers may be in a different order, the visual layout has not changed.

12.  Organizing for Reading Order

      o  Now, we are going to organize for reading order in the layers palette. The items you want to be FIRST in the reading order need to be at the BOTTOM
           of the layers palette list; the items you want to be read LAST need to be at the TOP of the layers palette list.

           IMPORTANT: This can be confusing to designers, because it is counterintuitive to layout skills. You may need to think creatively at times; items that
                may need to be read first, for example, may not be able to be moved right away because they would shift to underneath another design element.
                Be patient and try to think outside the box.

      o  Organize all mid-level objects into reading order in the layers palette

          In this example, I want the logos to be read first, the main header second, the slide image third, and the speaker’s notes fourth. So, I place the UC
               logo just above my background elements, the Accessibility Network logo above that, then the header “Accessible Presentations Example” above 
               that. Next, I place the slide image above the header, and the speaker’s notes image above the slide image.


Image 16 In the layers palette, the object in the mid-level of the layout are organized into reading order; items read first are lowest and items read last are at the top.

    o  Lastly, organize the objects in the top layers into reading order in the layers palette

          In this example, I want the slide image read first and then the callout boxes around it read after that. So, I select all the callout box layers and move them to above the slide image. (After they are moved, I make sure that my layout hasn’t changed in any way.) Next, I move the speaker’s notes callout box elements to just above the speakers note box image in the layers palette. And, lastly, the run accessibility checker callout box to just above the accessibility checker image. This leaves the tag line at the bottom of the layout (visually) in the top layer of the layers palette (read-order).


Image 17 Layers palette in InDesign; elements in the mid-layer are organized into reading order (first at bottom/last at top); You might find that certain elements might be organized amongst other layers.

13.   Choose File>File Info…


Image 18 File Menu in InDesign; Choose "File Info..." under "File" to open the File Info dialogue box.

14.   Add a descriptive title in the “Document Title” field


Image 19 File Information dialogue box; At minimum, enter the Document Title information in the first form field.

    o  OPTIONAL: Enter other information about your file


Export to PDF

15.  Choose File>Export… and enter the name of your file into the “Save” dialog box


Image 20 File menu in InDesign; Choose "Export..." under "File" to save the current layout to PDF.

16.    Select which folder you want to save the file to

17.    Choose “Adobe PDF (Interactive)” from the dropdown menu


Image 21 Export dialogue box in Adobe InDesign; emphasis given to the selection "Adobe PDF (Interactive)" in the “Format” dropdown menu.

18.   Select “Save”

19.   In the Export to PDF dialog box, under Options, make sure “Create Tagged PDF” and “Use Structure for Tab Order” have check marks next to them


Image 22 Export to Interactive PDF dialogue window in InDesign; Special emphasis placed on "Create Tagged PDF" and "Use Structure for Tab Order" check boxes, which should be selected.

20.   Select “Export” and InDesign saves the PDF file

21.   Navigate to where you saved your file

         o   Make a copy of the file as a backup. NOTE: The only way to undo in Adobe Acrobat is to reverse your action, close the file and not save, or start over with your original exported document. By working on a copy of the file, you preserve your original export in case you make a mistake.

22.  Open your PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC


23.    Open your file in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC (The free version, Adobe Acrobat Reader, will NOT work in this case.)

24.   Select the “Tools” submenu/tab


Image 23 Accessible Presentation Example PDF opened in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC; emphasis placed on the "Tools" tab.

25.   Scroll to the subhead “Protect & Standardize”; select “Accessibility”


Image 24 Tools tab submenu in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC; Emphasis placed on the "Protect & Standardize" subheading and the "Accessibility" selection option.

         o   You should now see your document with a set of accessibility tool options on the right-hand side


Image 25 Accessible Presentation Example PDF opened in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC; Accessibility Submenu choices emphasized.


26.  Select “Reading Order” in the Accessibility Tools submenu on the right side; this highlights all the elements in your document and opens the Reading Order submenu


Image 26 Touch Up Reading Order submenu displays when the "Reading Order" accessibility tools option is selected.


Consolidate tags
o   The numbers and corresponding boxes are all individual elements translated from InDesign. Sometimes, text does not translate as a single block element.


27.   To clean this up, place cursor over the number until it changes to a hand and click to select the box. Hold the “Shift” key down and click the additional number(s) to select the elements(s) you’d like to combine in the same manner.

28.   With the boxes still selected, in the Touch Up Reading Order submenu, select the button that best describes your content (in this case, it was “Text”). The numbers and boxes should now combine into one.

        o  NOTE: Sometimes, the boxes you select will highlight in blue and sometimes it will remain grey. If you clicked the number with the hand tool, it is selected, even though the boxes might remain grey.


Image 27 To consolidate text elements, shift-click each number in the group, select the "Text" tag in the "Touch Up Reading Order" submenu, and the text elements will combine under one number.


o  Repeat for all remaining elements, including “Background” elements, which are any extra returns or figures that are only relevant to sighted users.

o   NOTE: If you select “Figure” for an image already defined as a figure with an InDesign tag, the previously populated alt text will be erased and you will have to enter a new one through Adobe Acrobat Professional.

o  Save your progress often (File > Save or cmd-S/ctrl-S). There is no “undo” in the accessibility features in Acrobat, so saving often and creating one or more backups can help to save your progress if you make a mistake.

o   You are finished when all numbered elements are consolidated and/or tagged appropriately.


Clean up reading order

o   Since we went to so much work in InDesign to make sure the layers were in the correct order, the reading order probably will not have to be revised. Look through your document, though, to make sure everything reads in the proper order.

29.   If you need to revise reading order, select “Show order panel” in the “Touch up Reading Order” window. The “Order” touch up panel opens to the left of the document.


Image 28 A tagged PDF layout in Adobe Acrobat Professional; Emphasis placed on the "Show Order Panel" button that when selected displays the” Order” panel, also emphasized on the left.

o   The numbers next to each container in the list correspond to each element in your layout.


Image 29 Detailed view of the Order Panel; emphasis is on layer number 5, which corresponds to the item labelled "5" in the PDF layout.

30.   Click and hold the element you would like to move. Drag up or down to the desired location in the reading order. (The line shows you where you can place it.)


Image 30 Detail of the "Order Panel"; grab and drag layers up or down into a different slot to change the reading order.

o   Drop the element in the desired reading order and it will re-number according to where you dropped your element.

      NOTE: In some cases, the text will disappear behind a graphical element when you re-order. To avoid this, you must make sure your layers are arranged in correct reading order in InDesign before you export to PDF.


Image 31 Detailed look at what happens when layer order conflicts with reading order; If the layers are not correctly aligned in InDesign, the layout might be negatively altered. To avoid this, you may need to go back to your original InDesign layout and adjust.

o    NOTE (continued): If this happens, you will have to reverse what you just did, close your document without saving and re-open it, or open the originally exported copy. THERE IS NO “UNDO” option currently available in Acrobat Professional. In some cases, it might be necessary to re-visit your original layout in InDesign and re-export a new PDF.

31.  When you are finished, close the Order panel.


Image 32 Detailed look at the Order Panel; use the "X" to close the panel.


o  The accessibility tool options still should appear on the right-hand side menu. (If not, Select the “Tools” submenu/tab; scroll to the subhead “Protect & Standardize”; select “Accessibility”.)


32.  Select “Full Check” to open the “Accessibility Checker Options” dialogue box.


Image 33 PDF layout in Adobe Acrobat Professional; emphasis placed on "Full Check" option in the accessibility tool options submenu that, when selected, will open the "Accessibility Checker Options" dialogue box.

33.  Select all categories

34.  Select the “Start Checking” button; the dialogue box will close, but the “Accessibility” window will now be apparent on the left side of the document.


Image 34 PDF layout in Adobe Acrobat Professional; emphasis placed on the "Start Checking" button that, when selected will open the "Accessibility" window on the left side of the layout.

35.  If your document has issues, the section header will be highlighted in bold; fix any known issues

       o  NOTE: To expand the highlighted issues, click on the arrow and the list will scroll open.


Image 35 Detailed view of the Accessibility window after the Accessibility Checker was activated; activating the arrows will scroll open individual issues and issue reveal details.

             This document has two errors:

             “Logical reading order - Needs Manual Check”.

                       1.   We’ve already manually checked the reading order and know that it is ok

             “Color contrast - Needs manual check”

                       1.   Download a Color Contrast Analyzer, or spot check the colors on the document using an online Color Contrast Ratio Checker.

36.  OPTIONAL: For more details about the issues in your document, select “Accessibility Report” in the accessibility tool options window.

             When selected, the links under “rule name” in the Detailed Report document table will open into a web page with more detailed explanations of the issue.


Image 36 Detailed look at the Accessibility Report for the open PDF document; Emphasis placed on the Accessibility Report option, that when selected will open a Detailed Report about the accessibility issues in the document; links in the Accessibility Report provide further detail about what the issue entails.

            For a list of other potential issues and their explanations, visit Adobe Acrobat's User Guide: Accessibility, tags and reflow.


37.  Don’t forget to save your document (File>Save, cmd-s or ctrl-s) in Adobe Acrobat Professional before closing



For more information, please visit the Accessibility Network at UC website.

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