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Apple tags PDF

Duff Johnson // November 13, 2019

PDF in general PDF/UA Article

Apple's Pages, KeyNote and Numbers icons.On September 30, 2019 Apple published a new page indicating that version 8.2 of its suite of productivity apps; Pages, Keynote and Numbers, now supports creation of tagged (and thus, accessible and reusable) PDF, and not just on MacOS, but on iOS/iPadOS as well.

Given my interest in all things tagged PDF, naturally I installed the update and tested the software! Some initial findings:

  • "Export to PDF" in Pages, Numbers and Keynote indeed now generates tagged PDF
  • It’s not even de-selectable; every PDF will be tagged
  • The export functionality is extremely fast and stable. Among other tests I tried a 985 page MS Word file with thousands of cross-reference links, tables and hundreds of images. Pages produced a tagged PDF in less than a minute, complete with links

Apple's documentation

Apple’s support page discussing these new features recommends various actions for authors who wish to produce accessible content, amounting to:

  • Use a larger font size
  • Add "accessibility descriptions" (aka, alternative text) to images and other media
  • Use headings
  • Use header rows and columns in tables
  • Use a table of contents
  • Use layout options to ensure valid text flow
  • Be aware of inaccessible color choices and inaccessible text within images

Although all excellent recommendations, complete accessibility in PDF or any other format requires attention to a variety of criteria as specified in WCAG 2.1 (generally) and PDF/UA (PDF-specific considerations).

Looking ahead

Apple is to be commended for introducing support for tagged PDF in their mainstream suite of productivity apps.

The fact that documents produced with Pages, Keynote or Numbers will now be tagged by default doesn't by itself ensure that accessible documents will result (authors inevitably have a major role), but it's a giant step forward for users with disabilities reading these documents.

Of course, there are many other uses of tagged PDF beyond accessibility, including reliable derivation to HTML (see our recent publication, Deriving HTML from PDF). Apple's decision to support tagged PDF opens these doors as well.

Some deficiencies were encountered in the tagged PDF output tested to-date, which is commonplace in new software. I encourage Apple to avail themselves of PDF/UA, the ISO standard for accessible PDF, as well as the PDF Association’s recently-published Best Practice Guide for Tagged PDF: Syntax. More generally, I would encourage all developers working on tagged PDF to consider joining the conversation within the PDF Association's PDF/UA Technical Working Group,  author of the broadly-adopted Matterhorn Protocol, the PDF/UA Reference Suite and the afore-mentioned best practice guide.

All in all this is a huge step forward for accessibility in PDF and I'm sure, will be very received by the broader community.


Duff Johnson
Duff Johnson

Duff serves the PDF industry as ISO Project co-Leader and US TAG chair for both ISO 32000 (the PDF specification) and ISO 14289 (PDF/UA). As Executive Director of the PDF Association, Duff coordinates several working groups, speaks at a wide variety of industry events and promotes the advancement and adoption of PDF technology worldwide. An independent consultant, Duff Johnson is a veteran …


Duff Johnson

Duff Johnson

Duff serves the PDF industry as ISO Project co-Leader and US TAG chair for both ISO 32000 (the PDF specification) and …

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