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Images of Text get Actual Text, not Alt Text

LigatureDropped CapImage of Text
Example of a ligature. Example of dropped capitalExample of an image of text.

PDF files may contain a rich variety of content. Many documents include ligatures, drop-caps and images of text for a highly styled appearance which can present accessibility challenges. Let’s see how CommonLook PDF helps resolve them.

Ligatures are combinations of characters. Some PDF creation software encodes ligatures incorrectly which can lead to missed characters and thus, illegible results in screen readers and other assistive technology.

Dropped capitals are often used to add a visual flourish. It’s common for the dropped capital letter to be rendered as an image, in which case specific handling is required to ensure the first letter of the word is available to AT users.

Images of Text are commonplace, especially in presentations, where they are often used as stylized section headings.

The solution is the same for all three cases. It’s not alt. text, which is reserved for figures, but “Actual Text.” The distinction is vital. Alt. text is descriptive text, but that’s inappropriate for ligatures, dropped caps and images of text. In these cases the AT user needs the “actual” text, not a description.

Tagging objects with Actual Text using CommonLook PDF

  1. Open the PDF page in Verify and Remediate or Logical Structure Editor mode.
  2. In the Logical view, select the tag that encloses just the object requiring Actual Text. The object’s tagged together with other objects you’ll need to create a separate tag dedicated to the object requiring Actual Text.
  3. In the Properties pane, enter the desired Actual Text in the field provided.

Screen shot demonstrating the application of actual text to a dropped capital letter "D".

The product documentation provides more information on managing Actual Text with CommonLook PDF.

CommonLook Tips

In these Tips we provide individual best-practice rules for tagging PDF documents.

In each case a specific situation is described, and model tags provided.

If applicable, we also provide an example of incorrect tagging on the same point so that users can test their assistive technology to determine whether it supports the described feature.

If there’s a Tip you’d like us to cover, please let us know!

What Failure Looks Like

If ligatures, drop-caps or images used as text don’t include Actual Text they may:

  • Be misrepresented to assistive technology (letters may be missing).
  • Cause a validation error due to missing alt. text or Actual Text.
  • Include alt. text (which triggers AT to indicate the presense of a Figure) instead of more appropriate Actual Text.

Applicable Standards 

Document contents must be understandable by users with assistive technology, so non-textual representations must include text alternatives per PDF/UA, WCAG 2.0 and the 2001 Section 508 requirements (§1194.22).


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