Design Domination Podcast Episode #159: 5 Must-have Acrobat Accessibility Preflight Fixups

Do you design or remediate accessible documents and find some of the PDF work to be tedious and time consuming? Find out five Acrobat preflight fixups that will speed up your accessible PDF workflow when it comes to artifacting, hyperlinks and more.


If you design or remediate accessible documents and you ever find some of the PDF work to be tedious and time consuming, then you’ll get a lot from this episode. Stay tuned to find out about five Acrobat Preflight fixups that will speed up your accessible PDF workflow.

What a Preflight Fixup Is

Preflight fixups are a feature in Acrobat that can help you with a document whether it’s destined for print or needs to be accessible. In other words, they are not specific to accessibility.

They help you automate certain tasks in a PDF file. But I am going to focus on some of the accessibility-related ones that I use and when to use them.

When you create an accessible document and export to PDF, even though you can get as much done in the source file as possible, there are still going to be things you need to address in the PDF.

You can address these issues manually, searching for them and fixing one by one throughout the entire document. But that can take a ton of time, especially if you have a long document.

The benefit of using a preflight fixup is that it automates that process for specific tasks. So you can run a fixup and it will affect the entire document.

Of course, that can also be a problem. There may be a situation where you don’t want something to be changed in the entire document, such as setting the labels of bullets to a generic bullet character.Acrobat‘s preflight panel.

This adds actual text to the bullet labels. But I’ve found that this actually changes all lists, even ordered (numbered) lists too.

So in some cases, you may need to do some things manually so that not everything like that gets changed in the document.

Fixups are found in the Preflight panel. In Acrobat on Mac, you can find this by going to Edit > Preflight or using the keyboard shortcut of Shift-Command-X. On Windows, the shortcut is Control-Shift-X.

Don’t ask me why it’s not also under the Edit menu in Acrobat on Windows.

On either operating system, you can also access Preflight by going to the Print Production tool and selecting Preflight. You can also go to Tools and then search for “preflight” and you’ll see a few tools show up and “Preflight” under each one of them.

Search bar in Acrobat’s “Tools” tab.

Fixup 1: Mark All Non-structure Elements as Artifact

The first fixup I use is Mark All Non-structure Elements as Artifact.

You may already intentionally artifact some elements in your source file, such as decorative elements or redundant images, but still get the “Path object not tagged” error in PAC. You may also forget to artifact some of these things as well.

But there are also some things you simply can’t designate as artifacts in the source file, such as table borders.

So you can run the fixup called Mark All Non-structure Elements as Artifact to address untagged non-structural content and mark it as artifacts.

To find this fixup, select PDF Standards then click the wrench icon. Then you can search by keyword. I usually search for “non-” and then the fixup appears in the list.

Preflight panel showing Mark All Non-structure Elements as Artifact.

Fixup 2: Set Labels in Unordered Lists to Generic Bullet Character

The next fixup is Set Labels in Unordered Lists to Generic Bullet Character.

Oftentimes, designers will use non-standard bullets. This can happen when a dingbat from a non-Unicode font is used. Screen readers may voice it as a letter even though it looks like, say, a square bullet to the sighted user.

This can also happen when a character or a glyph other than a regular bullet, like an arrow, is used. Screen readers will voice the Unicode name and maybe you don’t want that to be voiced. Maybe that would be irrelevant or confusing.

You can use the Set Labels in Unordered Lists to Generic Bullet Character fixup to change all unordered list bullet characters to say the word “bullet.”

The caveat I’ve found—like I mentioned earlier—is that it changes the labels on all lists, even ordered (numbered) lists too. That may not make sense to do, since an ordered list is a series of items in a particular order.

So you really have to decide if you want to apply this fixup and then undo what it does to the numbered bullets or not run it at all.

To apply the fixup, make sure PDF Standards is selected, then click the wrench icon. Then search for “bullet” and then the fixup appears in the list.

Preflight panel showing the fixup—Set Labels in Unordered Lists to Generic Bullet Character.

Fixup 3: Create Content Entry for Link Annotations

Another fixup I use a lot—whenever I have a document with hyperlinks—is the Create Content Entry for Link Annotations fixup.

This is especially helpful when you have unclear link text such as “click here.” It acts like alternate text for hyperlinks so that they are more user friendly.

You’ll find this in PAC as the “Alternative description missing for an annotation” error.

You can apply this fixup by going to PDF Standards, selecting the wrench icon and searching for “link.”

Preflight panel showing the fixup—Create Content Entry for Link Annotations fixup.

Fixup 4: Add Unique ID to Note Elements in Tagging Structure

If you have a document with endnotes or footnotes, you will want to take advantage of this next fixup—Add Unique ID to Note Elements in Tagging Structure.

You’ll encounter this in PAC as “ID missing in Note structure element.”

Again, with PDF Standards and the wrench icon selected, search for “note” then select Add Unique ID to Note Elements in Tagging Structure.

Preflight panel showing the fixup—Add Unique ID to Note Elements in Tagging Structure.

Fixup 5: Set PDF/UA-1 Entry

The last fixup on my list of must-use is the fixup for setting the PDF/UA icon. In PAC, this shows, as the “PDF/UA identifier missing” error.

I always run this one last. This is like a stamp of my approval to show that the document has gone through an automated and manual accessibility check. So only then do I add it.

Technically, though, anyone can add this at any time, so it doesn’t mean that if you open a PDF and see this, that it’s a stamp of approval or that the document is accessible.

In the Preflight panel, this time, select Acrobat Pro DC 2015 Profiles and the wrench icon and search for “pdf/ua,” Then select Set PDF/UA-1 Entry.

Preflight panel showing the fixup for setting the PDF/UA icon.

Learn More About InDesign and PDF Accessibility

So there you have the most common Acrobat accessibility preflight fixups that I use.

Now I mentioned the PAC checker. But I also want to say that accessibility is much more than passing a checker. Checkers cannot check for most accessibility issues.

Many well-meaning designers think they’re creating accessible InDesign files when they actually aren’t.

So be sure to download my free guide, 7 Common InDesign Accessibility Mistakes, to find out if you’re making any of these common InDesign accessibility mistakes or to not make them in the first place.

2 comments

  • Hello,

    I train semantic search engines and the PDF’s body text is critical, while the TOC footnotes and index are problematic fort the model. Can I delete all text smaller than 8 point in a PDF file? Can this be run as a batch process?

    Thanks!

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