Episode #108: My Top 21 InDesign and PDF Accessibility Tools

When making PDFs accessible for Section 508 or ADA compliance, there are some tools you can use that make the process a lot easier and faster. Here are my top 21 InDesign and PDF accessibility tools for making accessible PDFs.


Show Notes


In this episode of Design Domination, I’m giving you my top 21 InDesign and PDF accessibility tools for making accessible PDFs. These documents benefit individuals with a visual impairment or motor disability, for example, and are screen reader friendly. Stick around to find out how these accessibility tools can help you make PDFs accessible.

Color Contrast Checkers

The first group of accessibility apps I want to talk about are color contrast apps. There are a ton of contrast checking tools out there.

Most of them work the same way in that you input a color code, see if the colors pass or fail. They let you lighten or darken the colors or adjust brightness to help you get a color combination that meets the contrast requirements. You can also usually switch foreground and background colors, although that doesn’t matter.

Some are in the form of an app, a script or a website. Some also have some features that others don’t have.

1. TGPi Colour Contrast Analyser

TGPi Colour Contrast Analyser dialog box.The first one—and these are in no particular order—is the TGPi Colour Contrast Analyser. (And note: it uses a British spelling.)

What I like about this is that it’s extremely versatile. It allows you to input hexadecimal (six-digit) codes or RGB values. So if you know the hex or RGB values for the colors you want to check, you can use them.

I also like that you can sample color with it from anywhere on your screen. So it’s easy to sample an area in a photo on a website or in another program. I also use it to sample colors that are in gradations or are a tint of a color.

2. WebAIM Contrast Checker

The WebAIM contrast checker is another contrast checker. This one gives an explanation of the WCAG contrast guidelines below the checker.

It also has a permalink option, which you can select and then copy and paste that URL. This comes in handy if you need to send someone proof that a color combination passes or fails. I’ve also used it to save the URLs to my project folder to know that I checked certain color combinations in the document already.

One thing it doesn’t do that some other checkers do is allow you to use RGB values.

WebAIM Contrast Checker’s interface.

3. WebAIM Link Contrast Checker

WebAIM also has a separate link contrast checker. If you are ever styling hyperlinks with color and not additional styling such as an underline—which I don’t recommend, by the way—then you can use this to make sure the color of the hyperlinked text has enough contrast between the body text color and the background as well.

4. Adobe Color

is another color contrast tool. For the contrast checker, go to the Accessibility Tools option.

In addition to checking contrast, it will also give you options for accessible color combinations.

Adobe Color also has a color blind safe option that detects color conflicts for individuals with color blindness.

Adobe Color’s interface.

5. Color Contrast Validator

Oftentimes, you’ll need to check multiple color combinations in a single document. This can be a tedious task if there are a lot of colors or tints of colors used.

If you’re using InDesign, then instead of checking every single color combination individually, you can use my friend Dax Castro’s InDesign script, the Color Contrast Validator.

This is a huge time saver. It checks color combinations in bulk all at once by assessing the colors in your document.

In one click, it labels each combination as passing or failing at the AA or AAA level of conformance, and if it should be used for large text only.

You can choose to run it to compare two colors that you choose. Then it will show you tints of the color in 10% increments.

Color Blindness Simulators

The next group of tools is color blindness simulators.

6. Sim Daltonism

Sim Daltonism is a mobile app and Mac program that you can download. When you open it, it shows a window frame that you can move to anywhere on your screen, no matter what program you’re using—InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator or something else.

You can then select from the menu or use the keyboard shortcuts to view whatever is within that frame in varying types of color blindness.

Sim Daltonism’s interface.

7. Coblis and Color Blind Check

Coblis Color Blindness interface.Coblis Color Blindness Simulator is a website where you can upload an image to it and see how it looks to people with different types of color blindness.

Once you upload the image, it gives you various options to view that same image as individuals with different types of color blindness would see it.

They also have an app called Color Blind Check that you can download.

I also just want to let you know that Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop have some color blindness options, but they don’t have as many options. I’ll give them an honorable mention.

In both programs, this can be found in the View menu, then Proof Setup. There are two options.

Adobe Illustrator’s color blindness feature.

Alt-Text

I’m really excited about this next set of tools, which make working with Alt-text so much easier. These are both also from my friend Dax Castro, and they are InDesign scripts.

They are the Alt-text Extractor and Alt-text Automator. They are particularly helpful when you have a large document with a lot of images. They work in tandem with one another and in one fell swoop.

8. Alt-Text Extractor

The Alt-text Extractor script will extract the Alt-text (whether it’s filled in or empty) and export it to a file—a .txt tab-delimited text file, which you open in a spreadsheet program such as Excel.

It’s actually a database file, and it contains the file name of each image, its Alt-text and the page number it appears on.

This is useful in several ways. First, it helps you spot images you may need to add Alt-text to that you haven’t yet. So you can double check any that have no Alt-text to make sure they are artifacted or to see if they need to have Alt-text.

Second, instead of asking the client or a coworker in an email or with sticky notes in a PDF to write or review Alt-text you may have written, this puts everything into a single spreadsheet. So you don’t have to go and put sticky notes in a PDF or copy and paste the Alt-text (in case they don’t know they can hover over the image to see it).

It also makes it easier for them to modify that Alt-text if they wish.

But it also helps if the Alt-text needs to be translated into another language. This is a huge bonus and a time saver.

I once worked on some InDesign files in English, Spanish and Arabic that had quite a few images. All I had to do was run this script and then send the client the file with the exported Alt-text in English. They then sent that to a translator, who added a column to the spreadsheet with the translations and sent it back to me.

9. Alt-Text Automator

Once you’ve extracted the Alt-text, you can use the Alt-text Automator script to re-import the edited Alt-text to InDesign.

After you’ve made any changes to that file—modifying the Alt-text or removing Alt-text where needed—all you have to do is save the file the Extractor originally exported. Just note that you can’t import that originally extracted file with any additional columns or anything else. It needs to retain the same structure.

If you do add another column, like for an additional language like I mentioned, manually copy and paste that information. But remove that added column before you import it back into InDesign.

Then run the Automator script.                            

Accessible Tables

Let’s talk about tools for making tables accessible. Oh, my goodness. Tables can be so much work, especially if you have hundreds of tables in a single document.

For help with tables, there are a few tools that can help.

10. Turbo Table Headings

The Turbo Table Headings InDesign script—also from Dax, and, maybe I should make this clear… I don’t get a dime from talking about his scripts. They are just really good, and he’s brilliant for coming up with them. He’s solving problems that we have in InDesign in the accessibility process.

This script converts the first row of every table to a header row.

If you’ve ever scoped tables, I am sure you’re doing a happy dance right now.

As someone who’s had to scope hundreds of tables in a single document, I can personally attest to the fact that it will save you time—and your wrist.

I work on an accessible annual report every year that has about 300 tables in it. This script not only helps my wrist, but it’s a huge time saver!

But I can’t overlook the other benefit. What if you get files from another designer? You could spend hours going to every single table, checking to see if someone already converted every first row in a table to a header row and then selecting and right-clicking each header row and converting them all to header rows.

Or you could just run this script!

Just be sure to check your document for any tables that shouldn’t have a header row of column headers—rare but possible.                   

11. PDFGoHTML

Another tool that is useful for checking tables is PDFGoHTML by Callas. This is an Acrobat plugin.

You might be remediating a PDF in Acrobat or dealing with a malaligned table in a PDF and find it hard to figure out where exactly the error is.

After installing this tool, you can run it through Acrobat by going to the Plugins menu. Then you just have to open a tagged PDF and go to the Callas option there.

It brings up a lot of options, one of which is called Structure Tags. This will show you the tags used in the document, including the table structure. It also shows headings, paragraphs, lists, etc.

You can review it to see where the table error might be. A lot of times, there is an errant table cell because a header row or column wasn’t set to scope enough rows or columns. You’ll usually find it hanging off to the side somewhere.

12. AxesPDF

To more easily scope certain tables, AxesPDF is helpful.

I recently used this for a project where I had lots of tables with only column headers—no row headers—and multiple ones at that.

It allows you to do this by simply clicking and selecting table headers that you want to apply to certain table cells rather than having to manually assign them.

There is much more to AxesPDF, but this is what I’ve mostly used it for.

InDesign Accessibility Checks

13. Check Document for Accessibility script

This next one is the Check Document for Accessibility InDesign script developed by Keith Gilbert in collaboration with Chad Chelius. This just came out, and I have briefly tried it and find it useful.

Check Document for Accessibility script’s interface.

It checks your InDesign file for various accessibility issues, such as a missing document title and prompts you to do so in the dialog box that comes up.

It maps paragraph styles to PDF tags based on their names.

It looks for images with missing Alt-text. It removes Alt-text from an image that is marked as an artifact and marks any image with the word “artifact” in the filename as an artifact.

PDF Checkers

During the accessible document layout or document remediation process, you’ll need an accessible PDF checker.

14. Adobe Acrobat

You might be surprised to hear me speak about this next one, because I’ve talked about how you cannot rely on it to test the full accessibility of PDFs—and you can’t.

It’s the Acrobat Accessibility Checker.

You can use it as a first step in the testing process. Assess what it finds. Automated checkers can only find so many issues, usually about 25% to 30% of them on average. Sometimes you get a false positive too.

You can use the Acrobat Accessibility Checker to check the reading order, tag order and several other issues. Then you can go back to InDesign (or whatever your source file is), fix the issues, re-export and recheck in Acrobat.

You can also use some of the Preflight fixups in Acrobat to fix some of the accessibility errors found by the PAC checker and to add the PDF/UA identifier.                          

15. PAC 2021

And PAC 2021 is the next tool on my list. This is just in the order I would do some things in the accessible design or remediation process.

PAC 2021 is a free checker that tests a PDF against the PDF/UA standard and also WCAG. This is a much more comprehensive checker than the Acrobat Accessibility Checker.Pac 2021’s interface.

Even if you get your document as perfect as possible in InDesign, you will get the same three, four or so errors in PAC 2021. You can run some of Acrobat’s Preflight fixups to then get the green checkmarks in PAC 2021.

PAC shows you where each individual error appears on the page. It also offers a screen reader preview, which is similar to how Callas’ PDFGoHTML shows the document structure, the tags.

You can also download a report.

Of course, the checker can’t check for things that need to be manually checked. So just keep in mind that passing any checker doesn’t mean the document is fully accessible or user friendly.                

16. Screen Reader

It’s important to also check your documents with a screen reader.

The three most popular ones are NVDA and JAWS for Windows and then VoiceOver for Mac.

I work on a Mac, but I don’t even try to mess with VoiceOver with documents.

I run Windows on my Mac with the help of Parallels. Then I spot check PDFs with NVDA most of the time and sometimes JAWS.                     

PDF Errors and Troubleshooting

17. Tagged PDF

If when you’re checking your PDFs for accessibility, you come across an issue you’re not sure how to fix, Kenny Moore’s Tagged PDF website and YouTube channel are really comprehensive resources.

You can look up the specific PAC checker errors on his site, where he explains the error and shows a video of how to fix it.

Tagged PDF’s interface.

18. PDF Accessibility Facebook Group

To get more support with PDF accessibility, there is the PDF Accessibility Facebook group, run by my accessibility colleague and friend Dax Castro.

The group members are of all kinds of levels, ranging from beginner to expert. They are happy to help you out when you have a question. They also come from a diverse background of document accessibility.

Not everyone works in InDesign. Some work in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Some remediate existing PDFs.

PDF Accessibility Facebook group.

Other InDesign and PDF Accessibility Tools

Those are the tools and resources that I use. There are other tools worth mentioning.

19. MadeToTag

One is MadeToTag, which is an InDesign plug-in. InDesign already allows you to tag content, but MadeToTag gives you a step-by-step process for some of the workflow before you export to PDF.

I don’t use this, because I already use a huge detailed checklist for my workflow that I created.

Even if you already have a process, MadeToTag could make table scoping a little easier. It expands on what InDesign can do. So you might consider it for that reason.

20. CommonLook PDF Validator

Another one is the CommonLook PDF Validator, which is a free Acrobat plugin that verifies and validates PDFs.

21. CommonLook PDF

CommonLook PDF is a paid tool to help you remediate documents within Acrobat.

Help With Accessible PDFs

If you need someone to make your InDesign files accessible, or if you’re already doing that and need help with specific issues and want a private consultation, get in touch.

Learn About InDesign and PDF Accessibility

If you want to learn more about InDesign and PDF accessibility, join me at the CreativePro Design + Accessibility Summit from November 16 through 19. Use code CPNCG to get $100 off any multiday event pass.

Learn Accessible Design

If you’re interested in learning about accessible design in general, I offer courses on accessible design.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *