PDF documents created with Adobe InDesign must comply with accessibility guidelines. This guide outlines the native accessibility features within Adobe InDesign.

An accessible PDF is one that is correctly tagged and optimised for screen readers and other assistive technology. Assistive technology uses 'Tags' to read the content of an InDesign PDF document. This guide will show you how to create a tagged, hierarchical structure within InDesign and put the final accessibility touches to your document Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Another benefit of defining structure with accessibility in mind within your InDesign documents is that it enables you to export files quicker when you need to generate a revised versions of your PDFs.



This video outlines how to make exported PDFs from InDesign accessible.

What you’ll need

You will need to have Adobe InDesign and Acrobat Pro installed on your computer to improved the accessibility rating of a PDF. Ensure to run any updates on the applications if available. If you do not have Adobe InDesign or Acrobat Pro please contact IT Service Desk via for assistance. It’s worth noting that Adobe Acrobat Reader, the free program distributed by Adobe that allows you to view PDFs does not have the required, advanced features of Acrobat Pro as outlined in this guide.

Accessibility Tools in Adobe InDesign

The steps required for making an InDesign PDF accessible are:

  • Creating Paragraph Styles and defining export Tags.
  • Mapping the Paragraph Styles to their respective export Tags.
  • Adding alternative text to images.
  • Using the Articles panel to set the reading order of the document.
  • Assigning metadata to the document.


The final actions required in Acrobat Pro are:

  • Running the Action Wizard Tool.
  • Manually passing the remaining default issues in the Accessibility Checker Report.

Step 1: Styles for the text elements in your document are defined through the ‘Paragraph Styles’ panel.

To access the panel, click on Type > Paragraph styles. The dialogue box defaults to 'Basic paragraph' style.

Select the Heading text in your document and then click on 'Create new style'. This will create a new Paragraph Style for the Heading element which will be the largest heading in your document. Double click the newly created style, name it 'Heading (H1).'

Scroll down to 'Export Tagging' option settings. Under the ‘PDF’ section, change the default '[Automatic]' option and define your tags based on the hierarchical structure, where H1 is the largest heading, H6 the smallest and P is for paragraph text.
Paragraph Style Options dialog in InDesign

Exclamation mark iconImportant: Heading Tags must be sequential to be compliant. For example, a sub-heading can’t be assigned an H3 tag if no heading has been assigned a H2 tag. Skipping Tags in this way will decrease the accessibility rating of the PDF.

Step 2: The Paragraph Styles need to be assigned Tags. Tags allow you to label elements in a design so when they are exported as a PDF they are correctly tilted for a screen reader to recognise. To do this, from the menu bar select Window > Utilities > Tags.

By default, the blue 'Root' tag encompasses everything in your design. But you need to create new Tags to mimic the Paragraph Styles that have been created. Click on ‘New tag’ and name it ‘H1’. Repeat the process for the remaining Styles H2, H3 and H4, H5, H6 if applicable, then create a P Tag for paragraphs, and finally create a Tag called Images.
Tags Panel in InDesign

To check your tagging presets. Click on the dropdown menu to the right and click on 'Tagging Preset Options'.

Ensure 'Images' are mapped to 'Images' in the dialog window, then click ‘OK’. 

Step 3: Next from the 'Tags' panel menu click 'Map Styles To Tags'. The Paragraph Style Tags appear on the left and to the right you will need to manually tag the fields entitled '[Not Mapped]. Map the 'Tag' to the correct 'Style' e.g. Style: Heading (H1) to Tag: H1 etc. Then click ‘OK’. All the text elements in the document should now be correctly mapped.

To map the images, click on the bounding box of the image to select it and then click on 'Images' in the Tags panel to tag it. This method works with single or multiple images. For multiple images, select them all using the Selection Tool in the main tool bar and then click on 'Images' in the tags panel to tag them.

Step 4: The next step is to add alternative text to images. Click on an image. Select Object > Object Export Options and a dialogue box will appear. Click on the 'Alt text' tab. In the 'Alt source:' dropdown change the default 'From Structure' to 'Custom', then insert the alternative text and repeat for each image in your document.

Exclamation mark iconImportant: Adding alternative text ensures images are recognisable by screen readers. Images that aren't deemed to convey meaning in the document can have alternative text that states: Decorative.

Step: 5 The next step is to define the order of order of your document using the Articles panel. Articles allows you to define sections of the document by grouping content in a logical way which will identify the document’s reading order. The order you create in the ‘Articles’ panel will define how the document will be read by a screen reader.
The Article panel in InDesign

To define the order go to Window > Articles. In the dialogue window, click on 'Create New Article'. You can create one article for the entire design or create multiple articles for a document with distinct sections and pages. Give the article a name e.g. 'Presentation' and then click ‘OK’. ‘Presentation' will appear in the Articles Panel.

Next, select the text elements on the page that you have created P, H1, H2 etc. as well as the images and drag them into the panel in the desired reading order.

Exclamation mark iconImportant: Screen readers will read your document in the order that you place these text elements.

Step 6: Now you need to define the file’s metadata. To do this go to ‘File > ‘File info’ and in the dialogue window insert a ‘Document title’, ‘Author title’ then click on ‘OK’.

File Info panel in InDesign

Step 7: To export the document go to File > Export. Select in the 'Format' dropdown list 'Adobe PDF (interactive)'. Select this format to ensure all the tags you created and layout structure is retained. In the dialog window under 'General > Options', ensure 'Create Tagged PDF' and 'Use Structure for Tab order' are both checked.

Export to interactive PDF Panel in InDesign

Under ‘Advanced’ look at the ‘Accessibility Options’ and in ‘Display Title' select ‘Document Title’ from the drop down menu. Click 'Export' and save the PDF. 

Now the PDF needs some final adjustments in Adobe Acrobat Pro.  

Step 8: Launch Acrobat Pro. To set up the workspace, click on the Tools tab at the top of the screen under the main tool bar. Beneath ‘Protect & Standardize’ click ‘Add’ for the ‘Accessibility’ tool and under ‘Customize’ click ‘Add’ for the ‘Action Wizard’ tool. These tools will appear on the right side panel of the screen.
Acrobat Pro Tools Screen

Step 10: Open the PDF you have exported from InDesign. Click on the ‘Action Wizard’ tool and under ‘Make Accessible’ click on the ‘Start’ button. Follow the prompts in the dialog box and fill in the required fields for ‘Description’.
Make Accessible Action panel in Acrobat Pro

In the ‘Recognise Text – General Settings’ panel, set the ‘Document language’ to: English (UK) and click ‘OK’. 

Next, you will be presented with the following message ‘Is this document intended to be used as a fillable form?’ here you would click on ‘No’ Skip this Step’ as our example document is not a form.

Then set the ‘Reading Language' to 'en-GB’ and click 'OK’.

The ‘Accessibility Checker Options’ dialog box will appear, then click on ‘Start Checking’.
Accessibility Checker Options panel in Acrobat Pro The results will be displayed on the left side of the screen. Click the ‘Close’ button at the top of the right panel.

Step 11: There will be 2 default document issues that will appear in the results, ‘Logical Reading Order’, and ‘Color contrast’ which need to be been manually checked and passed.
Accessibility Checker Report results in Acrobat Pro

To review the ‘Logical Reading Order’, click on ‘Accessibility’ Tool located in the right panel and click on ‘Reading order’ to check the document's flow. The content should appear in the logical, hierarchical order H1, H2, P etc. as this is how the content will be read by a screen reader and other assistive technology. Reading Order panel in Acrobat Pro

Once confirmed, go to the ‘Accessibility Checker' report in the left panel, right click (Windows) or control + click (Mac) on ‘Logical Reading Order’ and in the menu select ‘Pass’. Please note if any reading order issues have occurred, these can be addressed in InDesign’s Articles panel as outlined earlier in this guide. 

Step 12: Finally, ensure the colour contrast of the document is sufficient (you can check your colour choices using WebAIM: Contrast Checker) and right click (Windows) or control + click (Mac) on ‘Color contrast’ and click ‘pass’.
Manually passing the Colour Contrast issue in Acrobat Pro

All issues should now be resolved and green ticks present on each section of the ‘Accessibility Checker report’. Your PDF is now accessible and ready for sharing.  

The Accessibility Checker Report Statuses Explained
The report displays one of the following statuses for each rule check:

PassedThe item is accessible.
Skipped by the userRule was not checked because it wasn't selected in the Accessibility Checker Options
dialog box.
Needs manual check

The Full Check feature couldn't check the item automatically. Verify the item manually. 

FailedThe item didn't pass the accessibility check

Resolving any issues from the report will ensure a high accessibility rating on Ally. Ally is the accessibility rating tool available on every module, course and resource page on Learning Space which scans each document uploaded to Learning Space and indicates how accessible it is. Whenever you upload a document you will see a red, amber or green speed-o-meter which rates the accessibility of your document.

100% Accessibility Score in Ally

Exclamation mark iconImportant: From September 2020, it is a legal requirement that all documents added to the Learning Space must meet the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 AA accessibility standards. More information about accessibility is available on the Falmouth Digital Accessibility Sharepoint site

Question mark iconFurther Support 

For further support on Learning Space, or to report any issues with this guide, please get in touch with the Digital Learning Team via Alternatively, please refer to the numerous help guides found on our Knowledge Base

View the Accessibility Statement for all of our support guides.