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Required Fixes for PDF Files

ASPA-DCD classifies accessibility errors into two categories as shown below:

  • Required Fixes (RFs): violations that must be corrected and have direct mappings to either Section 508 or HHS accessibility guidelines.
  • Encouraged Fixes (EFs): issues that should be corrected in order to meet best-practice accessibility standards but are not required for conformance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or HHS accessibility guidelines.

Should you have questions or recommendations for revisions to the below list, please contact ASPA-DCD at http://wcdapps.hhs.gov/AccessibilityAssistance/. We welcome any and all feedback about these common-issues lists.

Back to Making Files Accessible

PDF Properties and General Checks

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
PDF is Untagged The PDF contains no tags - Documents without tags do not provide information describing the logical structure and relationship of elements to users of Assistive Technology. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Add tags, and re-submit for review. For further assistance see: Adobe Tagged PDF
HHS Making Files Accessible
VA PDF tagging tutorial
Webaim PDF Accessibility
Tab Order is Not Specified The tab order is not specified for at least one page of the document. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.2 Set the tab order for all pages to ‘Use Document Structure’. For further assistance see: Adobe Defining Tab Order
W3 PDF Technique #3
Primary Document Language not Set The document language has not been set. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 3.1.1 Set the language dropdown under File > Properties >Advanced Tab -to the appropriate language. For further assistance see: Adobe Setting Primary Language
W3 PDF Technique #19
Document Properties are Not Filled Out Properly The Title, Subject, and Author fields in the document properties have not all been properly populated. This issue is a violation of HHS Guidelines and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.2 Provide the Title, Author, and Subject in the Document Properties. For further assistance, see: Adobe View Document Properties
HHS Guidance on Document Properties
Background content was deleted The accessibility checker shows content that was untagged and not marked as an artifact. In most cases this is introduced when background content is deleted from the tag structure rather than marked as an artifact. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Find the deleted content and mark as background/tag as artifact. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #4
Adobe Tagged Content
Untagged Annotations Present The accessibility checker shows annotations present that have not been tagged. In most cases this is due to hyperlinks that were created but never tagged. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Find the unmarked annotation and appropriately tag/place in the correct position in the tag tree or remove the physical link. For further assistance see:

Adobe Tagged Annotations
W3 PDF Technique #11
Document is a Scanned Image The document is a scan of a paper hard copy that has not had Optical Character Recognition run. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.5. Enable Text Recognition by using Optical Character Recognition and ensure the new version is copyedited and crosschecked against the original. For further assistance see: Adobe Image Only PDF
W3 PDF Technique #7
Content Flashes more than 3 times per Second There is content in the document that flashes/flickers/strobes more than 3 times per second which can cause seizures. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.3.1. Adjust content so it does no flash more than 3 times per second. If possible, remove the flashing effect completely. For assistance see: W3 General Technique #19
Bookmarks Unavailable for Document >=10 pages The document contains at least 10 pages and does not contain proper bookmarks. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.5. Add bookmarks for major divisions of the document. Recommend creating based on the heading structure or Table of Contents if one exists. For assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #2
Adobe Bookmarks
Bookmarks are inaccurate There are multiple bookmarks to the same place, incorrect titles/names, or locations are out of order. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.5. Add, remove, or rearrange bookmarks. Recommend creating based on the heading structure or Table of Contents if one exists. For assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #2
Adobe Bookmarks
Comments, Annotations, or Tracked Changes are Present The document contains collaborative markup from the original source file that is inaccessible and should be removed before public distribution. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Remove comments and annotations. Accept or reject any tracked changes. In most cases, this must be done in the original source file.
PowerPoint Converted to PDF has Speaker's Notes in Separate Layer Assistive Technology cannot access speaker's notes created in this manner. This issue is a violation of section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Notes need to be removed, or speaker's notes need to be typed in a word file, converted to PDF, tagged, and merged with the PDF.
PDF fails General Accessibility Check The Adobe accessibility checker has flagged an error. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 4.1.1. Use the built in Adobe help to diagnose and remediate the error. For further assistance see: Adobe Help
Using the Adobe Accessibility Checker
PDF Fails Assistive Technology (AT) Review An AT review was performed on the PDF and it was determined to be unusable for those whose rely on AT to properly interpret and understand the content. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 See usability write-up for problems encountered with AT and address. Strongly consider another delivery format such as HTML.
Resizing Text Causes No Change or a Loss of Content When text is resized to 200% with the built in magnification tool, content is either not resized or becomes unreadable. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.4. Restructure content so that the text is readable when magnified to 200%.

W3 General Technique #179
Document Title is not Showing in Title Bar Filename shows in the title bar instead of the document title. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.2. Change Initial View to "Document Title". For further assistance, see: Adobe Document Title
Operational Instructions rely on Sensory Characteristics Instructions are provided for operating content on the PDF or a web page but they rely only on shape, size, visual location, etc to identify the content. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.3 Provide additional instructions that do not rely on sensory characteristics such as textual identification. For assistance see: W3 General Technique #96
W3 Failure #14

Color

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Distinctions Beyond Color-Only are Missing Color-only distinctions are present and there are no alternative means to those distinction methods, making the information inaccessible to both blind and color-blind individuals. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.1. Convey information by context, markup, graphic coding, or other means in addition to color. For further assistance see: W3 General Technique #14
Color Contrast is Insufficient Color contrast ratio between text and background is less than 4.5:1. This is a violation of HHS Guidelines and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.3. Change color scheme by lightening or darkening one or both of the colors. For further assistance, see: Free contrast analyzer tool
W3 General Technique #18
Charts/Graphs rely on Color-only Legend A color-only legend is being used for a chart/graph that loses necessary information for understanding when converted to black and white. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.1. Convey information by adding a non-color method to the legend or providing an equivalent text alternative adjacent to the content. For further assistance see: W3 General Technique #14
Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Links are Tagged Incorrectly The nesting of the Link tag, linked text, and Link-OBJR tag is incorrect. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Modify the tag structure so that the <Link> tag contains the appropriate visual link text and a Link-OBJR tag. For further assistance, see: W3 PDF Technique #11
Generic Link Text is Present Generic link text such as ‘Click Here’, ‘Read More’, etc. is used, and there are no clues to link destination or function in the text immediately surrounding the link. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.4 Modify generic link text such as ‘Click Here’, ‘Read More’, etc. to a value so a user can understand the destination out of context and/or ensure that the text surrounding the link provides context for the link's functionality and destination. For further assistance see: W3C General Technique #53
W3C General Technique #91
Links are Only Identified Visually by Color Links have no visual indication from surrounding text other than color, and the contrast difference between the colors is not at least 3:1. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.1. Modify links so they have a visual indicator other than color (i.e. underline) or adjust the color so there is sufficient contrast. For assistance see: W3C General Technique #183
Free contrast analyzer tool

Images

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Image is Missing Alternative Text A non-decorative Figure is tagged and lacks Alternative Text. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Add appropriate Alternative Text that is equivalent to the information conveyed by the image. For further assistance see:
Adobe Alt Text
W3 PDF Technique #1
Webaim Alt text
Alternative Text is Incorrect The alternative text does not match the actual purpose of the image. The alternative text should contain both the "take home message" and any actual text that is in the image itself. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Analyze the image and correct the alternative text to correctly communicate the purpose of the image. For further assistance see:
W3 PDF Technique #1
Webaim Alt text
Decorative Images are not Tagged as Background Images used for decoration, layout, or other non-informative purposes have alternative text, which is not appropriate in that context. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Tag all non-informative images listed in the Locations section as artifacts or background. For further assistance see:

W3 PDF Technique #4
Complex Images are Missing Detailed Descriptions There are images present that need more detailed, more substantive descriptions. Examples include pie charts, organizational charts, flow charts, maps and graphs. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Add a more detailed description in the surrounding content (preferred), or create a visible URL to a page within the document with the text description. Best practices put alternative text at no more than 150 characters so it is not advisable to lengthen the current alt text. For further assistance see: W3 General Technique #95
Webaim Alt Text
Organizational Charts Lack Text-only Versions There are visual Org charts that are not accessible to users of Assistive Technology. Relationships gained visually such as lines connecting boxes or other visual grouping methods such as having boxes next to each other are missed. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Provide a text version of the chart with alternate means of associations either on the page (directly below the visual org chart), or provide a link to an existing web page that has a comparable text only version. For assistance see: W3 General Technique #95
Webaim Alt Text
HHS Org Chart Web page
Alternative is not Equivalent An alternate version of complex content was provided, however there is more information gained in the original version and/or the information is inconsistent when comparing the two versions. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Update the alternate version of the content to be equivalent to the original. For assistance see: W3 General technique #73
Informational Image is Tagged as Background There is an image that visually conveys information to the user and has been tagged as background with no alternate text equivalent. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Tag the image as a figure, move to the appropriate position in the tag tree, and add appropriate alt text. For assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #1
Webaim Alt Text
Group of Related Images not Tagged in an Accessible Manner A group of related visual elements which show relationships amongst textual content, such as a timeline or flow chart, is not tagged in an accessible manner. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Tag the elements as a series of figures. The first figures should introduce the concept of the image and the figures that follow should capture the text/relationships conveyed. Alternatively, a more accessible version of the content can be created and linked to.
Content is not Appropriate as in Image An image of textual content such as a memo, letter, or table is included rather than the actual text version of the content. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.5 Recreate the image as actual textual content and appropriately tag. In some cases, OCR can be used. For assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #14

Tag Structure

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Tag Structure does not Reflect Logical Reading Order The intended reading order of the document is not reflected in the tag structure. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.2. Modify/retag the PDF tag structure to reflect the logical reading order. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #3
Informational Content is not Tagged The PDF contains some content (Footnotes, text, etc.) that is both informational and not part of the tag structure. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Add tags for all informational content. Tag non-informational content as background/artifact. Ensure new tags are placed in proper sequence in the tag structure.
Content is Incorrectly Tagged Some informational content is tagged incorrectly. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Modify tags for informational content listed. For further assistance see Adobe Standard PDF Tags
Nonstandard Tags are Used and Improperly Mapped The PDF contains nonstandard, custom tags that are not correctly mapped in the role map. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Add functional correspondence to role map. Strongly recommend retagging with standard tags. Adobe Standard PDF Tags
Table of Contents Entries are not Correctly Tagged A table of contents was included in the document, however the items were not tagged with the appropriate Adobe tags. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Table of contents items need to be structured with <TOCI> tags nested under a parent <TOC> tag. Beneath the <TOCI> tag the item description, leader and page number.
Footnotes interrupt an unrelated paragraph The document contains footnotes that split an unrelated paragraph and thus affects the logical reading order. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.2. Move the footnote text in the tag structure to either directly after the reference number, or directly after the paragraph that contains the reference number. For assistance see:
Tagged Text does not Match Visual Text PDF text content (not the actual visual text) contains misspellings and or spacing issues. This is usually introduced from conversion of the source file or OCR. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Modify the text to match the intended visual text. This can be remediated either at the source file, content editing in Adobe, or using the Actual Text field in the properties of the tag containing the text. (Note, if the text is contained in a link tag, use the Alternate Text field). For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #13
Nonstandard Text is Used Text look- a-likes were used in place of standard text, or standard text was used to convey another meaning and no text alternative was given. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.1.1. Modify the characters used or provide an alternative that gives the intended meaning of the section of non-standard text. For further assistance see: Adobe Character Encoding
W3 Html Technique #86
W3 Failure #71
Footnotes/Endnotes are not correctly tagged The document contains footnotes or endnotes where the citation and/or note text is not using Reference and or Note tags. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Tag footnote/endnote reference numbers with <Reference> tags. Tag the actual footnote with a <Note> tag. Tag reference number in the Note tag with a <label> tag (optional). For further assistance see: PDF32000_2008 (14.8.4.4.1)
Language not Set for Foreign Words or Phrases The document contains text in a language different from the main document language which has not been set in the properties. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 3.1.2 Specify language for all foreign words and phrases. For further assistance see: Adobe Setting Document Language
W3 PDF Technique #19
Paragraph Tagging is Insufficient Multiple visual paragraphs are contained in a single paragraph tag. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Tag the content so that the visual paragraphs are reflected in the tag structure.
Paragraph Tagging is Excessive A single visual paragraph is split among multiple paragraph tags. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1 Tag the content so that the visual paragraphs are reflected in the tag structure.

Tables

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Tables Used for Layout Purposes Table tags are present for content that is not contained in a visual data table. This issue is a violation of HHS guidelines and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Remove all content from the Table tag that is not strictly part of a data table and delete the Table tags.
Tabular Data Lacks Table Structure Data tables are not formatted utilizing proper data table structural markup. This refers to the tags Table, TR, TD, etc. Tables that do not have correct formatting are not accessible to users of Assistive Technology because the relationships between intended headers and data is lost. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Tag the tabular data using table tags. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #6
Incorrect Table Structure The tagging structure does not match the visual representation of the table. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Retag content to match visual layout. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #6
Irregular tables The accessibility checker is flagging a table for irregularity. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Check the table structure in the tag tree for consistency issues (extra rows, cells, etc.). If accurate, check individual cells for correct colspan/rowspan settings. W3 PDF Technique #6
W3 PDF Technique #20
Table Headers Missing TH Tags The table row or column header cells are coded as ordinary data cells, making the tables inaccessible to users of Assistive Technology. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Add <th> tag to all header cells and ensure that each <th> tag surrounds the text of the row or column header. Then properly associate to data cells. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #6
Missing Header Cell Content Table header cells contain no text. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. If the cell is purposely blank and is the first cell in the column and row in the table, retag as a data cell. Otherwise, add appropriate text for the header cell or reformat the table. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #6
Table Header Cells are not Associated with Data Cells for a Table with Row and Column Headers Table header cells are not properly scoped for a table with a single set of both column and row headers. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Add proper scope for column and row header cells. For further assistance see: W3 HTML Technique #63
Table Header and Data Cells are not Properly Associated in a Table with Multiple Column and/or Row Headers Data table has multiple levels of row and/or column headers and lacks the necessary coding associating the data cells with their respective headers, or the coding is present but incorrect. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Set the id field of all header cells and correctly associate it with the headers field of all data cells. For further assistance see: W3 HTML Technique #43

 
TH Tags Used on Data Cells TH tags have been used on table cells containing only data. TH tags should just be used on cells containing Header information only. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Retag the cell(s) with a TD tag. For assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #20

Lists

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Visual Lists are Incorrectly Tagged A visual list is present, but is tagged as plain text in the tag structure. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Modify the tags. Each list structure must consist of a parent <L> tag and subsequent list item <LI> tags for each item in the list. Each list item <LI> tag must contain a list item body <LBody> tag that contains the text of the item. Each list item should contain a label <lbl> tag that includes the number or bullet of the item. For further assistance, see: W3 PDF Technique #21
List Item Identifiers are Missing A list structure is present, but are missing the necessary List Item and/or List Item Body tags. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Add missing tags. Each list structure must consist of a parent <L> tag and subsequent list item <LI> tags for each item in the list. Each list item <LI> tag must contain a list item body <LBody> tag that contains the text of the item. Each list item should contain a label <lbl> tag that includes the number or bullet of the item. For further assistance, see: W3 PDF Technique #21
Multiple List Items are Combined More than one item of a visual list is combined into a single tag. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Tag each list item separately. For further assistance, see: W3 PDF Technique #21
Nested Lists are Incorrectly Tagged Visually nested lists are not tagged as such. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Tag each sub list as a sibling or child to the LBody tag of the appropriate list item. For further assistance, see: W3 PDF Technique #21
List items are Broken into Multiple List Structures List tags are used, but a single visual list is broken up into multiple single item list structures, which is confusing to Assistive Technology users. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Properly code list structures. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #21

Headings

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Heading Tags are Missing Text has been visually altered to act like a heading but the text has not been tagged as heading. Without using heading tags, to Assistive Technology users, this text appears no different than normal paragraph text. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Tag the heading text with appropriate heading tags and ensure a logical hierarchy of heading levels is maintained. For further assistance see: W3 PDF Technique #9
Heading levels Improperly Structured and/or Skipped Heading tags have been implemented but heading levels were either skipped (for example, H2 to H4) or did not move down a level when a logical subsection was present. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Review the heading tags and adjust the structure so that subsections of previous headings use the next level, and that there are no heading level skips present. For further assistance see: W3 HTML Technique #42
Heading Tags Used on Decorative Text Heading tags have been used on decorative text. Heading tags should only be used on text that is defining a new section of the document. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Retag the content with the normal paragraph tag. For assistance see: W3 Failure #54
Heading does not Accurately Describe Section of Content A heading was included to define a section of content, but it is either not descriptive or does not accurately define the contents of the section. This issue is a violation of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.6. Modify the text of the heading to accurately describe the content of the section it defines. For assistance see: W3 General Technique #130

Forms

Issue Title Issue Description Remediation Suggestion
Form Fields are not Tagged At least one form field in the document has not been added to the tag structure. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.1. Add all form fields to the tag structure, and then reposition the tags within the tag tree so that they are in the correct order. For further assistance see: Adobe Tagged Form Fields
Labels Conveying the Purpose of Each Form Control are Missing or Inaccurate Tooltips were either not provided for at least one form field, or the tooltip is generic and does not provide the user with any information to identify the purpose or format of the form. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 3.3.2. Add tooltips to all forms. Provide accurate text that identifies the fields as well as any formatting requirements that are programmatically enforced. For further assistance see:

W3 PDF Technique #10
Adobe Field Descriptions
Tab Order for Forms Does Not Match Visual Order When tabbing through form fields, the focus does not follow the same order as the visual layout of the page suggests. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.3.2 Reset tab order to match logical reading order.
Required Field Indicator is not Provided Required fields were set programmatically in Adobe, but this is only communicated visually by a color only method. This issue is a violation of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.1. Add a visual non color dependent method to indicate a field is required.
Content created by Digital Communications Division (DCD)
Content last reviewed on May 23, 2018