All of the content within a PDF must be tagged in order for it to be accessible. Tags establish a logical reading order, indicate document structure and content types, add alternative text to non-text elements and more.

Determining if a document is tagged

Determine whether or not a PDF has been tagged by:

  1. Opening the document properties by clicking "File" in the main menu and selecting "Properties." Look for the "Tagged PDF" label in the lower left-hand corner of the Description tab.
  2. Opening the Tags panel and select "View" followed by "Show/Hide" followed by "Navigation Panes" and finally "Tags." An untagged document will display the words "No Tags Available" as its
    root and no structure tree will appear. A tagged document will have a tree of tags descending from the Root node. Make sure that all content in the document is included in the tags tree.
  3. Opening the Reading Order tool in the Accessibility panel and reviewing the document. A tagged document will display shaded areas on the page. Each shaded area will either have a number (which corresponds to the piece of content's place in the reading order) or an abbreviation for the tag type (e.g. "P" represents a Paragraph tag). These are groups of content with tags assigned to them. An untagged document will not have shaded areas on its pages.
  4. Using the Accessibility Checker to see if Adobe flags the document for being untagged. Learn the basics of using the Accessibility Checker.

Adding tags to an untagged document

There are several ways to add tags to an untagged document:

Make Accessible Wizard

Under tools, open the Make Accessible Wizard. Activate the "Add Tags to Document" command and generate a Recognition Results report for adding tags.

If Adobe encounters potential problems while automatically adding tags to the document, these issues will be noted in the Add Tags report that appears in the navigation pane on the left-hand side of the window. This report lists each problem by page and provides a link to each issue along with a suggestion for fixing the issue. Tags must be reviewed and verified manually. The automatically-generated tags and Recognition Results report generated after auto-tagging a document requires review. Make decisions to determine the best solution for any possible mistagged content.

Adding tags to a PDF may result in a complicated tag structure that is difficult to fix manually. Specific tags can be removed directly via the Tags panel or by using Reading Order tool. Learn more about repairing and editing tags.

Reading Order Tool

If the document is tagged, but specific content is still missing, open the Reading Order tool on the Accessibility panel. Tagged content will be shaded with either a number (which corresponds to the piece of content's place in the reading order) or an abbreviation for the tag type (e.g. "P" represents a Paragraph tag). These are groups of content with tags assigned to them. An untagged piece of content will not be shaded.

Helpful hint: Be sure to save copies of the document as updates are made. The Undo button cannot be used to reverse changes made while using the Reading Order tool. Reverting to a saved document is the only way to undo changes made while using the Reading Order tool.

To add tags to untagged content, use the cursor to draw a rectangle around content. When content is highlighted, a blue box will appear around it. Choose the most appropriate tag from the buttons on the Reading Order and click the button to tag the content. The buttons include the following tag types:

  • Text: Tags the selection as text.
  • Background: Tags the selection as a background element, or artifact, removing the item from the tag tree so that it doesn’t appear in the reflowed document and isn’t read by screen readers.
  • Figure: Tags the selection as a figure. Text contained within a figure tag is defined as part of the image and is not read by screen readers.
  • Figure/Caption: Tags a selected figure and caption as a single tag. Any text contained in the tag is defined as a caption. Useful for tagging photos and captions and preventing caption text from being incorrectly added to adjacent text blocks. Figures may require alternate text.
  • Table: Tags the selection as a table after the selection is analyzed to determine the location of headings, columns, and rows.
  • Cell: Tags the selection as a table or header cell. Use this option to merge cells that are incorrectly split.
  • Form Field: Tags the selection as a form field.
  • Formula: Tags the selection as a formula. Because speech software may handle formula tags differently from normal text, it may be necessary to add a description using alternate text.
  • Heading 1-6: Tags the selection as a first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth level heading tag. Heading elements can be converted to bookmarks to help users navigate the document.
  • Show Page Content Groups: Outlines each content group, and allows the user to select between Page content order, which displays content based on it’s numerical order value, and Structure types, which displays content type, for example Paragraph or Figure, in place of numerical values.
  • Show Page Content Order: Shows content elements as highlighted areas that contain numbers to indicate the reading order. The rectangle next to this entry is a color swatch. Specify the desired highlight color for page content order by clicking the color swatch.
  • Show Table Cells: Highlights the content of individual table cells. The rectangle next to this entry is a color swatch. Specify the highlight color for Table Cells by clicking the color swatch.
  • Show Tables and Figures: Outlines each table and figure with a crossed-out box. The box also indicates whether the element includes alternate text. The rectangle next to this entry is a color swatch. Specify the highlight color for Tables and Figures by clicking the color swatch.
  • Delete Selected Item Structure: Removes the structure from the selected item.
  • Clear Page Structure: Removes the tagging structure from the page. Use this option to start over and create a new structure if the existing structure contains too many problems.
  • Show Reading Order Panel: Opens the Order tab to allow reordering of the highlighted content.

While using the Reading Order tool, some of the items have additional editing options once right-clicked:

  • Table Editor: Automatically analyzes the selected table into cells and applies the appropriate tags. Table Editor is only available for content that is tagged as a table.
  • Edit Table Summary: Available via context menu on a highlighted table. Allows the user to add or edit a text description of the table that is read by a screen reader or other assistive technology.
  • Edit Alternate Text: Available via context menu on a highlighted figure. Allows the user to add or edit a text description about the figure properties that is read by a screen reader or other assistive technology.
  • Edit Form Field Text: Available via context menu a form field. Allows the user to add or edit a form field text description that is read by a screen reader or other assistive technology.

Read more about the Reading Order tool.

Using the tags panel

The Tags panel is the most advanced panel for tagging PDF files. Advanced users may primarily use the Tags panel for tagging documents in combination with several tools. This method can be complicated and is not the recommended method for adding tags to a document.

Find basic instructions on how to manually edit tags in the Tags panel using Adobe Acrobat's Accessibility tool below.

  • Add or edit a tag title: Right-click a tag, choose Properties from the Options menu, enter text in the Title box and click Close.

A user adds a tag title to an element in a PDF's tag tree using the Adobe Acrobat Pro program.

  • Change the element type: Expand the section of the logical structure that needs to be changed. Right-click an element and choose Properties from the Options menu. Choose a new element type from the Type menu and click Close.

A user changes a tag type in a PDF's tag tree using the Adobe Acrobat Pro program.

  • Move a container or object: Click and drag or cut and paste the item within the tags structure.

A user moves a tag using the drag-and-drop and cut-and-paste methods in the Adobe Acrobat Pro program.

Find more information on editing tags and correcting reflow problems.

Repairing and editing tags

Automatic tagging does not provide the same level of detail as manual tagging does. To address specific pieces of untagged content, use the Reading Order tool. To display the Reading Order tool, open the Accessibility panel and click Reading Order in the right-hand side menu. 

To tag a region, use the cursor and click and drag to draw a square or rectangle around a region of the page that contains one type of content (for example, a paragraph). Click the appropriate button in the Reading Order dialog box to tag the content.

A user adds an H1 tag to a PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro's Reading Order tool.

To change a tag for a region, open the Reading Order tool. Select a region by clicking the number or tag type of a highlighted region. Click the appropriate button in the Reading Order dialog box to tag the content.

A user changes a tag type in a PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro's Reading Order tool.

If content within a highlighted region does not flow properly, you may need to split a region to reorder or retag the content. To add or remove content from a tagged region, open the Reading Order tool. In the Reading Order dialog box, unselect the option to "Display like elements in a single box." Select a highlighted region and do one of the following:

  • Add content to the current selection by pressing the Shift key as you click and drag. You will notice the cursor changes to include a plus (+) sign. Click the appropriate button in the Reading Order dialog box to tag the content.

A user adds additional text to a selection while tagging content using Adobe Acrobat Pro's Reading Order tool.

  • Remove content by the Control key (or the Command key on Mac) as you click and drag. You will notice the cursor changes to include a minus (-) sign. Click the appropriate button in the Reading Order dialog box to tag the content.

A user removes content from a selection using Adobe Acrobat Pro's Reading Order tool.

 Find more information on editing tags and correcting reflow problems.

Removing tags

If the tags in a document are overly complicated and cannot be managed, it's possible to retag an already tagged document. To do this, you must first remove all of the existing tags. To remove all tags from the entire PDF, open the Tags tree by selecting View > Navigation Panels > Tags. Select the root tag, titled Tags, and choose Options > Delete Tag. Be sure that manual tagging is the only option before removing all of a document's existing tags.


WCAG requirements: 1.1.1 Non-text Content, 1.3.1 Info and Relationships, 1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence4.1.2 Name, Role, Value