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PDF Accessibility: How to Correctly Tag a Title

Theory on the Title of an Accessible PDF

The Matterhorn Protocol 1.1, which defines specific tests for compliance with PDF/UA-1 (ISO 14289-1), does not include specifications for the title of a PDF document. Therefore, there is a consensus that the title can be tagged either as a paragraph (<P>) or as a top-level heading (<H1>).

In its section, the Tagged PDF Best Practice Guide 1.0.1 also explains that the title can be tagged as a paragraph (<P>) or as a first-level heading (<H1>) in PDF/UA-1 compliant PDFs. However, the guide additionally makes it clear that the paragraph tag (<P>) is way more suitable. More specifically, the guide recommends using a title tag (<Title>) for the title and then referencing the title tag to a paragraph tag (<P>) through role mapping (this will be explained in more detail and with a specific example below). There are several reasons behind this approach, some of which are mentioned here:

  • Visually impaired people use the first-level headings to get an overview of the document structure. If the title occupies the first-level heading, the title would interfere with this standard procedure.
  • In authoring programs like Microsoft Word, headings appear automatically in the table of contents. If a title were defined as a top-level heading, it would also appear in the table of contents. Correcting this would require additional manual effort.
  • In 2024, the PDF/UA-2 standard was released, which is expected to replace the PDF/UA-1 standard in the coming years. The PDF/UA-2 standard introduces a Title tag (<Title>), which means that according to this new standard, a title can no longer be tagged as a top-level heading (<H1>). Therefore, it is advisable to adopt a future-proof approach now and refrain from tagging titles with heading tags.
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Tagging the Title Using Acrobat

If the source document (e.g., Word “.docx” file) is no longer available, the tagging structure must be edited directly in the PDF. Typically, Adobe Acrobat is used for this purpose. The video tutorial demonstrates how to tag the title of a PDF document that does not have any tagging structure yet.

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Implementing the Title Using Word (& Acrobat)

If the source document (e.g., Word or InDesign) is available, it’s much better to set everything up as good as possible in this source document. Well-known word processing softwares automatically implement many accessibility criteria during the PDF export (if done correctly), greatly reducing the amount of post-processing. The video tutorial demonstrates how to correctly format a title in Word and it additionally shows a trick to also fulfill three more Matterhorn conditions (06-003, 07-001, 07-002).

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Leon Renner
Leon is a Microsoft-certified digital document expert. He advises companies and government institutions worldwide, to make their documents more efficient and user-friendly.
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