Create InDesign documents to export as accessible PDFs

1. Add document title

  • File > File Info
  • In the "Basic" tab add the document title and author

2. Create Paragraph Styles

All text (such as headings, paragraphs, bulletpoints) must have a Style applied to them from the Paragraph Styles panel.

If you are using the handy Accessible InDesign Template (for DIA publications or your own publications) then you can skip this step and go straight to Step 3 because the templates are already set up a outlined here.

Headings and text

  • Name all headings H1, H2, H3, etc (H1 should only be used on the cover). Don’t jump heading styles in the document (eg, from H1 to H3). Name body text P

Lists (numbered or bulletpoints)

  • To make them accessible you need to double click on the style > select "Bullets and Numbering" in lefthand menu > under the "List Types" dropdown menu select "Bullets" or "Numbers"

Tag Paragraph Styles

  • Paragraph Styles panel > hamburger menu > Edit All Export Tags

  • Click EPUB and HTML button > under TAG column select H1

  • Click PDF button > under TAG column select H1

  • Repeat for all other styles (Note: body text is P)

  • Lists (eg, numbered or bulletpoints) need to be set to "Automatic" under "Epub and HTML" and "PDF"

3. Thread all text frames

Make sure all text frames, from cover to back page, are threaded (except for an automated Contents page). Check this by:

  • Your InDesign page will show a blue line indictating whether text frames and pages are linked in sequential order
  • If you include unthreaded text boxes, such pullquotes or captions, then you will need to use the Layers panel to put these in the right reading order:
    • Open the Layers panel
    • Click on "Layer 1"
    • Move the unthreaded item to the correct reading order position
    • Note: The reading order in the Layers panel starts at the bottom (so it shows here in an upside way)

4. Tables

Table header rows need to be marked as "Header Rows":

  • Table > Insert Table
  • Under "Header Rows" select 1

To add a header row to exisiting tables

  • Hightlight the row
  • Rick click on the highlighted row and select "Convert to Header Rows"

5. Images

Anchor all images to text

Add alt text to images

Alt text (or alternative text) is a written description that serves as a text equivalent of the meaningful information that the image conveys for those who are visually impaired and can’t see the image.

  • Select and right click on the image
  • Object > Object Export Options
  • Select the Alt Text tab
  • In "Alt Text Source" select Custom
  • Type in the alt text

Purely decorative images

These are incidental images that don’t add information to the content of a page and that screenreaders should ignore. Colour blocks on child pages (but not parent pages) also decorative images and need to be tagged as such.

  • Object > Object Export Options
  • Select Tagged PDF tab
  • Apply tag > Artifact

Vector (EPS, AI) images

All vectors should be inserted onto the InDesign page as links. They should not be copied and pasted from Illustrator into InDesign because each element in the vector will be treated as a separate image and make it much more complex to have to tag each of them.

6. Export to PDF

  • File > Export
  • Adobe PDF (Interactive)
  • Tick "Create Tagged PDF" and "Use Structure for Tab Order"
  • Click the "Advanced tab"
  • Under "Display Title" select "Document Title"
  • Under "Language" select the language
  • Click "Export" to export to PDF

7. Final check in PDF

Use the PDF accessibility checker:

  • Tools > Accessibility > Accessibility Check
  • Click "Start Checking"
  • If result is "question mark" then it’s not necessarily a fault - you are just being promopted to check
  • If the result is an actual "Issue", click on the arrow and anything that say "Failed" (red x) then click on the arrow to see what’s under it and click on the actual error and Acrobat will take you to the page and highligh the actual fail
  • Go back and fix any issues or errors in InDesign and not in the PDF


Contact DIA for any questions