Digital Accessibility, News

What is PDF remediation and why is it important?

Posted by: 
on March 5, 2023 from USA

AbleDocs works in the world of digital accessibility, and we talk a lot about PDF remediation. But what does it really mean?

What is PDF remediation?

PDF remediation is the process of ensuring that PDF documents are accessible to people with disabilities, particularly those who use assistive technologies to access digital content. PDF remediation involves reviewing the PDF document to identify accessibility issues and making the necessary changes to improve its accessibility.

Some common accessibility issues that require remediation in PDFs include:

  1. Lack of alternative text for images: Images in a PDF document need alternative text descriptions that provide a text-based description of the visual content, so that people who use screen readers can understand what the image conveys.
  2. Improper reading order: PDF documents should be structured in a logical reading order, so that people who use assistive technologies can understand the content in the correct sequence.
  3. Inaccessible forms: Forms in PDF documents should be designed to be accessible to assistive technologies, so that people who use assistive technologies can fill them out.
  4. Inaccessible tables: Tables in PDF documents should be designed to be accessible to assistive technologies, so that people who use assistive technologies can understand their content.

PDF remediation can be done using various tools and techniques, including manual remediation, automated tools, and third-party services. The goal of PDF remediation is to ensure that the PDF document is accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, so that they can fully access and understand the content of the document.

What does it mean to remediate a document?

To remediate a document means to improve its accessibility and usability for people with disabilities. Remediation involves identifying and fixing accessibility barriers in the document, so that people with disabilities can access and use the content of the document.

Remediation can involve various techniques and tools, depending on the type of document and the accessibility barriers that need to be addressed. For example, to remediate a PDF document, you might need to add alternative text descriptions for images, restructure the reading order, and ensure that tables and forms are accessible to assistive technologies.

The process of remediation typically involves the following steps:

  1. Evaluation: Review the document to identify accessibility barriers and determine which remediation techniques are needed.
  2. Planning: Develop a remediation plan that outlines the techniques and tools that will be used to address the accessibility barriers.
  3. Remediation: Use the planned techniques and tools to remediate the document and ensure that it is accessible to people with disabilities.
  4. Testing: Test the remediated document to ensure that it is fully accessible and usable by people with disabilities.
  5. Verification: Verify the accessibility of the remediated document using testing tools, like AbleDocs’ ADScan, and assistive technologies.

By remediating a document, businesses and organizations can ensure that their content is accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. This promotes inclusion, diversity, and equity, and ensures that no one is excluded from accessing important information and services.

How do I fix PDF accessibility issues?

Here are some steps to fix PDF accessibility issues:

  1. Identify the accessibility issues: The first step in fixing PDF accessibility issues is to identify the specific accessibility barriers that need to be addressed. This can be done by using accessibility evaluation tools, such as Adobe Acrobat’s Accessibility Checker or third-party accessibility testing tools.
  2. Address images and graphics: Ensure that all images and graphics in the PDF have alternative text descriptions that accurately describe the content of the image for people who use screen readers.
  3. Address reading order: Ensure that the reading order of the PDF content is logical and follows a meaningful sequence. This can be done by using the reading order tool in Adobe Acrobat.
  4. Address tables: Ensure that tables in the PDF are properly tagged and have appropriate header cells, so that people who use assistive technologies can understand the content of the table.
  5. Address forms: Ensure that all form fields in the PDF are properly tagged and have appropriate labels and instructions, so that people who use assistive technologies can fill out the form.
  6. Use clear and readable fonts: Use fonts that are easy to read and understand, and avoid using fancy fonts or fonts that are difficult to read.
  7. Add bookmarks and links: Add bookmarks and links to the PDF document to help users navigate the document more easily.
  8. Test the PDF: Test the PDF using assistive technologies, such as screen readers and speech recognition software, to ensure that the accessibility issues have been addressed and the document is fully accessible.

How can I improve my PDF accessibility?

Let’s look at some of those common elements of remediation fixes in a PDF and why they’re essential.


As navigational tools, headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.) help organize documents and inform readers of what is contained in them.

Headings help make content more understandable for individuals with assistive technology by dividing it into easily digestible sections by creating navigational landmarks within the document. In addition, people using assistive technology can choose to only read the headings in a document so they can know what the document contains.

A PDF without headings would cause an assistive technology user to read every line of the document to find what they’re looking for.


When creating a PDF, you might have added links for your users to learn more about a specific topic. These links need to be tagged as links when you’re remediating.

When you fail to indicate where a link leads, end-users may not realize they will leave your document or where they will end up.


Lists have a specific way they need to be tagged to avoid each item appearing to be a bunch of unrelated words without any context.

When a list is tagged correctly, it will inform the end-users assistive technology of the number of items within a list and where they are in the list.


In general, tables can be challenging to understand with assistive technology. Each cell needs to be referred to by its row and column, but additional information may be required to understand the data correctly. Things like column and row headers need to be identified for the order of the data to be navigated easier.


For assistive technology to read images, they require alternative (alt text) text.

The alternative text conveys the “why” of an image as it relates to the content of a document. It’s essentially the image described in words read aloud by assistive devices, like screen readers, and indexed by search engines.

An image missing alt text within a PDF is read as an image or graphic, but no additional context or information will be provided.

Now, if the image is simply decorative, it doesn’t require alt text, but rather it needs to be artifacted within the document’s tags. These items can include, but are not limited to:

  • Background images
  • Boxes
  • Repetitive logos
  • Design elements like lines, circles and squares

Reading order

When it comes to reading order, it is what it’s called – you’re providing the order for the elements within the document to be read. When your PDF lacks an identified reading order, assistive devices will not understand how to properly navigate down the page, leading to a messy and inconsistent end-user experience.

Even if your document has a reading order, it’s essential to check that it reads the same way you want it to as the content creator.

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