by Andrew Kirkpatrick

 Comments (15)


January 3, 2012

This post is subject to Adobe's Terms of Use.

Authors looking for additional guidance on how to meet the W3C WCAG 2.0 for PDF documents can now look to the W3C techniques repository for additional guidance. Techniques for PDF authored over the past two years since the release of the last update to the WCAG techniques (which included techniques for Flash) are now part of the larger collection of techniques. View the full set of WCAG 2.0 techniques or view PDF techniques on their own.

These techniques provide a clear path for demonstrating that a PDF document can meet the most current accessibility standard from the W3C.

As with the Flash techniques for WCAG 2.0 and techniques for all other technologies, the PDF techniques are presented as examples which the WCAG Working Group viewed as sufficient to meet WCAG 2.0 success criteria, not as the only way to meet any given success criteria. Authors may discover a new way to address a success criteria, in a way not yet covered in the existing techniques, and be able to demonstrate why it is sufficient. The techniques offer a collection of strategies that have been reviewed by the working group, but the techniques collections for all technologies are works in progress as there are always additional ways to address success criteria.

The table below provides a listing of the WCAG level A and AA success criteria and the PDF-specific and General techniques that authors can employ to meet success criteria. It is worth noting that not all success criteria for WCAG 2.0 have technology-specific techniques. For example 1.3.3 (Sensory characteristics) has only general techniques, and in this case and similar ones I reference the relevant general techniques section. In some cases there are relevant general techniques as well as PDF-specific techniques and for these both are linked.

Update: I neglected to acknowledge the hard work of Mary Utt from The Paciello Group on the PDF techniques initially, but Mary was a tremendous help in moving this work forward and I offer many thanks. Many people on the WCAG working group also worked very hard to help make these techniques reach this final stage. Thanks to all!

Please send general comments, comments or questions on the techniques, or suggestions for new techniques.

WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria and Applicable Techniques for PDF
Success Criteria Level Techniques
1.1.1 Non-text Content A
1.2.1 Audio-only and Video-only (Prerecorded) A
1.2.2 Captions (Prerecorded) A
1.2.3 Audio Description or Media Alternative (Prerecorded) A
1.2.4 Captions (Live) AA
1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded) AA
1.3.1 Info and Relationships A
1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence A
1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics A
1.4.1 Use of Color A
1.4.2 Audio Control A
1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum) AA
1.4.4 Resize text AA
1.4.5 Images of text AA
2.1.1 Keyboard A
2.1.2 No Keyboard Trap A
2.2.1 Timing Adjustable A
2.2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide A
2.3.1 Three Flashes or Below Threshold A
2.4.1 Bypass Blocks A
2.4.2 Page Titled A
2.4.3 Focus Order A
2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context) A
2.4.5 Multiple ways AA
2.4.6 Headings and Labels AA
2.4.7 Focus Visible AA
3.1.1 Language of page A
3.1.2 Language of parts AA
3.2.1 On Focus A
3.2.2 On Input A
3.2.3 Consistent Navigation AA
3.2.4 Consistent Identification AA
3.3.1 Error Identification A
3.3.2 Labels or Instructions A
3.3.3 Error Suggestion AA
3.3.4 Error Prevention (Legal, Financial, Data) AA
4.1.1 Parsing A
  • Not Applicable: PDF is not implemented using markup languages
4.1.2 Name, Role, Value A


  • By Whitney - 9:46 AM on January 4, 2012  

    When are you going to update the techniques on the WCAG site to include Acrobat X. It’s not possible to follow the instructions for Acrobat 9, as too much has changed in the menus. Acrobat X was released over a year ago.

    • By AWK - 9:54 AM on January 4, 2012  

      Whitney, that is hard to say. The W3C process length pretty much guarantees that the techniques will be out of date with regard to version of Acrobat or Reader. We discussed this on the WG (updating the version of Acrobat in the examples) but decided that it would delay the process, potentially long enough to have be out.

      What specifically are you having trouble following in the techniques? Most of the references are to the tags tree or the Touch Up Read Order tool, and should work well for both versions once the user opens the tag tree or TURO tool, although the steps to open each varies by version. Let me know and I’ll see about getting additional resources posted to clarify.

  • By Whitney - 10:15 AM on January 4, 2012  

    Well, let’s start with ALT text. The example shows a menu called Tools–>Advanced Editing” which doesn’t exist in Acrobat X. Yes. I found it. But only because I took the time to think about where this menu might have migrated to.

    I know it’s the same once you get into the tool but you have to be able to find the tools in the first place.

    How can I send someone who is just getting started to these guides?

    It’s not just the material on WCAG. Go to and you will read “ACROBAT X ACCESSIBILITY GUIDES A series of Accessibility Guides for Acrobat X is in development and will be available when the product ships.”

    • By AWK - 10:28 AM on January 4, 2012  

      I agree that the differences in versions presents a problem, but not an insurmountable one. A quick web search or look at the documentation will get people on the right path, even if that isn’t an ideal answer. I also am checking in on the Acrobat X guides which are long overdue.

      • By Whitney Quesenbery - 7:58 PM on January 7, 2012  

        Thanks. How about a simple document that shows the interface for finding commands in Acrobat X vs. Acrobat 9. I agree that once you find the right tool, it usually follows the Acrobat 9 documentation. It may be unreasonable, but it’s frustrating when a procedure breaks on the first step, and you have to go hunting around. Makes it hard to overcome resistance.

  • By Greg - 12:04 PM on January 4, 2012  

    Very useful reference, least now we have something we can point clients to, who require their PDFs to be WCAG AA compliant, but think that this can be done by the tagging process alone.

  • By Tufail Shahzad - 8:31 AM on January 7, 2012  

    After reading your guidelines i checked your post header and it is inaccessible so it means you guys (or yourself) even ignoring above stated rules/guidelines.

    • By AWK - 9:59 AM on January 7, 2012  

      Tufail, I’m not sure which heading you’re referring to but will happily fix it if you can provide more information. Is this on or on the specific post’s page? Is it the h2 that shows the words “WCAG 2.0 Techniques for PDF”? More info will help me address this issue.

  • By Rob - 9:57 PM on January 26, 2012  

    if you wave ( the page, you will see the error that @tufail is reffering to. The page begins with an H3 the way the page is structured as well as some other little things.

    • By AWK - 10:56 PM on January 26, 2012  

      I do see a few small issues as you point out, but nothing that would make the post header inaccessible. The order of the headings is not a WCAG 2.0 error, but I’ll see what I can do about the issues that are in there. Thanks.

  • By David Berman - 12:49 AM on February 22, 2012  

    Andrew, this is a fantastic table. I’ve been carefully through it: thank you.

    I have a couple of small tweaks to suggest:

    -I think that 2.4.1 should also cite PDF4.
    -I think that PDF11 should be removed from 4.1.2 .
    -I think that a tagged PDF’s ability to reflow text effectively enables success on 1.4.4 .

    • By AWK - 1:05 AM on February 22, 2012  

      Thanks David, some responses:
      1) 2.4.1 is bypass blocks and PDF4 is about hiding decorative images – can you explain more about why you think that they belong together?
      2) PDF11 isn’t listed under 4.1.2.
      3) I agree re: reflow, but it is still covered under a general technique.

  • By Tim Pohl - 5:47 PM on July 19, 2012  

    Very useful information. Thank you.

    I’m curious about the A and AA level of success you give to each criteria. Does this mean that a PDF can only be awarded a A level of WCAG 2.0 success overall? Most of the time when I read about accessible PDFs, they talk about WCAG 2.0 in general terms and not mention the A, AA, or AAA level of success. To ask my question another way, if I create my PDFs using the techniques listed in the Adobe White Paper, ” New Solutions for Creating Accessible PDF Documents with Adobe InDesign CS5.5″ I’m assuming that is the most accessible PDF possible. But what success level does that represent?

    • By AWK - 10:58 AM on July 30, 2012  

      A PDF can meet A, AA, or AAA, but most regulations call for AA so that’s what we’ve focused on the most.

      The whitepaper you mention doesn’t necessarily result in a WCAG-compliant document, not because it isn’t possible, but because there are items that need to be verified by the author in order to make such a claim. For example, the whitepaper tells you how to add alternative text for images and how to get heading tags in the published document, but this is just the nuts and bolts of how to get this type of information into the document, not how to ensure that you are using these structures appropriately.

      We’ll take a look at the whitepaper and see what other information we can produce to help make the process for producing a AA-compliant PDF from InDesign more clear.

  • By Lula - 3:50 PM on June 13, 2013  

    I would like to ask a question conserne Heading. Is it possible to add a PDF form two heading 1? Please answer ASAP. Thanks,