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Section 508 Compliance: Creating Accessible Documents

A selection of resources and information on Section 508 Compliance.

Accessibility Tip

One way to ensure you are creating accessible, and standardized, documents is to create templates.  This would be especially beneficial for series documents and annual reports.  Once the accessible template has been created, it is a matter of dropping in the new text.         

Using a Screen Reader

In this YouTube video from NS State IT Accessibility, you can see how important tagging and accessibility features are for people who rely on assitive technologies.  

Using LaTex for Document Creation

If you are using LaTeX to recreate your document please see our program specific resources. If you have any questions or are having difficulties with the remediation work, please contact the NOAA IR Account (

Submitting Accessible Documents to the NOAA IR: The "Big 5"

The NOAA Central Library checks all documents submitted to the NOAA IR for the following accessibility elements:

  1. Tagged content: The PDF is a tagged PDF.  Auto-tagging is acceptable.  If this step is not done, no other elements will pass since they rely on tagging elements. (List of Standard PDF tags from Adobe)
  2. Bookmarks: Bookmarks are present on documents over 20 pages and illustrate the structure of the document.  If a Table of Contents is present, bookmarks should reflect this.  
  3. Alternative Text: Alt text is present for all figures, charts, maps, etc.
  4. Logical reading order: The reading order of the elements is logical and follows the flow of the document.
  5. Document properties: Title and Language are present.  (Adobe resources about creating and editing document metadata)

We are considering this the bare minimum for inclusion.  At this time, we are striving for a Level AA conformance to accessibility standards for all of the materials the library uploads to the NOAA IR and the library's server.  For more information on conformance levels  see W3C's page on Conformance.  

In the future we will require additional elements to pass, such as Tables, but the library will provide guidance and notice before this change is made.

Making Accessible Publications

The NOAA Central Library has created and compiled the following checklists and resources for authors and editorial staff to use when creating documents that are Section 508 accessible.  

Additional Accessibility Resources by Special Attribute Type

Figures & Images

Alternative text, or alt text, is a description of a visual element of a document such as a figure, graphic, or image.  Alt text is required for all images, figures and the like in order to ensure a document is accessible.  

Social Security Administration's Guide for Alternative Text and Images:  This guide from the SSA provides a wealth of information on creating and maintaining alternative text.   Samples, guidance and a list of common mistakes to help guide content creators. 

WebAIM Alternative Text:  From the group Web Accessibility in Mind, the page offers examples of alternative text best practices for images and figres with and without captions, and more. 

  • Alt Text Decision Tree:  This resource helps users determine when and how to apply appropriate alternative text to different types of images and figures.      

Charts & Graphs

Charts and graphs are often difficult to describe in a shortened way and therefore alt text may not be the best way to annotate them.  In these cases it is best to utilize a long description or a two-part alt text for the item.  Below are a couple guides to creating descriptions for these complex images.

W3C Complex Images: While W3C focuses on website accessibility and the WCAG 2.0 standard for accessibility, many of the same principles apply to documents as well as web content.  The tutorial offers some best practices for long descriptions.  

Social Security Administration's Guide for Alternative Text and Images:  As mentioned above this guide from the SSA provides a wealth of information on creating and maintaining alternative text.   Samples, guidance and a list of common mistakes to avoid are included as well as a section devoted to complex images.


Tables can often be difficult to make accessible: requiring a fair amount of touch-up in Adobe after converting from MS Word.  Below are some resources on the different types of tables and how to make both Data Tables and Complex Tables accessible.

Table Concepts--W3C Web Accessibility Initiative: provides an overview of table styles and why tables should be made accessible.  Links to additional information about how to make different elements accessible. 

Creating Accessible Tables--WebAIM: covers both Layout and Data tables and elements in each such as headers, captions, summaries, etc.

Formulas & Equations

Formulas & equations require a different approach when making a document accessible due to the non-Roman characters, numerical elements and symbols.  Below are some resources that offer options for making formulas accessible within documents.

Federal Highway Administration Example:  this document shows the alternative text that the FHA used for their formulas.  The author created the formulas as an image and then posted descriptive text behind the image to provide access to the equation.

UCF Creating Accessible Equations: this page offers examples of alternative text for equations, providing 3 different types of text to describe equations.  Additionally, it provides a brief how-to of adding alt text in Word using Windows and Mac.   

Penn State University Accessibility:  Equations:  this page offers information on how to provide alternative text for equations using ALT Tags, and withing LaTeX, and MathML.  

MathML:  MathML is a tool to help present mathematical information on the web and within web based documents.  This page from W3C offers tutorials on creating mathematical expressions using MathML and provides additional links for authoring tools beyond a text editor.