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Overlapping Objects Checkpoint (MS Word)

Background and Purpose

When objects overlap they may present ambiguities to the authoring software with unpredictable results in the output PDF file.  In addition, if the overlapping objects obstruct content, this can create reflow problems in the generated PDF as well.

The Purpose of this checkpoint is for the user to review each instance of overlapping objects to ensure that content is not obscured and that reading order is correct.


The Current Checkpoint displays a list of detected overlapping objects.

  1. Select the first object from the list.
  2. Ensure no content is obstructed by that object.
  3. If content is obstructed, close CommonLook Office and change the design so that no content is obstructed.
  4. Reopen CommonLook Office (if needed) and repeat steps 1-3 as needed for other overlapping objects.

Screen shot of the CommonLook Office Global Access panel for Overlapping Objects. Two objects are listed to verify that content is not being obstructed.

Options for overlapping objects

After closing CommonLook Office, in MS Word, for each instance of overlapping objects in which content is obstructed, the following options are available:

  • Group the objects (if possible and contextually appropriate). Each group will have a single tag in the output PDF.
  • Change the design so that objects no longer overlap. Each object will receive its own tag.
  • Leave the design as is. In this case, errors may occur. Some content belonging to one object may be tagged with another. Some content may become hidden in the physical view of the document but still be read by assistive technology devices.

Note: It is highly recommended that overlapping objects be grouped and that alternative text is provided for the group as a whole.

Key Tip: When objects are obstructed (hidden) behind other objects, the PDF may not be generated correctly. Each instance of such obstruction, if accepted in the checkpoint, should be checked in the generated PDF file. If a document fails to generate correctly due to an image overlapping with text, move that text to a separate text box and group the new textbox with the image.

Guidelines and Standards

This checkpoint is relevant to the following regulations, guidelines, and standards:

DocumentPublishedScopeConformance Criteria
Section 508 – 2001 Regulations (USA)2001“Web-Based Information & Applications”(d)
W3C WCAG 2.0
(REVISED SECTION 508 – 2017)
2008Web ContentSC 1.3.2
Health and Human Services – HHS (USA)2013PDF File 508 ChecklistID 3.2
ID 3.6
ID 4.2
ID 4.3
ID 4.4
ISO 14289 (PDF/UA)2012PDF TechnologySection 7.1