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Use Reading Order in your accessible designs and documents

Renée Meloche
Renée Meloche
  • Updated

Every document or design presents content—text and non-text elements—in a sequence.

A reader without visual or cognitive impairments can normally understand the reading order of content just by looking at a design or document; but accessibility tools like screen readers require additional information to correctly interpret the order in which they should read content to a reader.

Create a logical flow in the content of your document to ensure that a screen reader will read it out in a sequence that makes sense.


What is Reading Order?

Reading Order refers to the metadata encoded in PDFs that enables users of screen readers or keyboard focus to access the document content in the order intended by the document creator.

Screen readers read out the content of a document according to the Reading Order.

Users who use keyboard focus will tab through sections of a document or a design, following the sequence of the content laid out in the Reading Order.


Why is Reading Order important?

Users of assistive technology, like screen readers and keyboard focus technology, navigate through written and visual content differently than sighted readers.

For readers with no visual impairments, reading order of content in a PDF or document might be obvious based on the arrangement of text and other visual elements. Users of assistive technology depend on tags embedded in the document that indicate the correct reading order.

A PDF (written in English) may contain multiple columns, for example, with each column containing visual and text elements. The logical reading order is to start with the title, then at the top of the first column on the left, read from top to bottom; continue from the top of the second column, etc.

An infographic with a title block and four numbered columns, from left to right. Each column has a title and a block of text underneath the title. Red arrows show the “logical” reading order: beginning with the title block, the reader then moves to the first column on the left and reads the column title, the text block underneath it from top to bottom, then moves to the second column to the right, and so on.

The "logical" reading order is not automatically accessible to a screen reader or keyboard focus, and needs to be tagged to ensure the screen reader doesn't read the document all the way from the left to the right, across the columns, then top to bottom.

An infographic with a title block and four numbered columns, from left to right. Each column has a title and a block of text underneath the title. Red arrows show the reading order a screen reader would follow, when missing adequate information regarding the reading order: from left to right across the page and across each of the columns from left to right, without reading the columns from top to bottom first.

Use Venngage's Reading Order accessibility tool to set the reading order in your design and ensure the content is accessible to all readers.

A user opens the Accessibility panel, with a design canvas open in the Venngage Editor from File (above the top toolbar), selecting 'Accessibility' and then 'Check accessibility'. The Accessibility panel appears over the Venngage Editor; the user scrolls down the items list under the 'Check Accessibility' tab before switching over to the Edit Reading Order tab and exploring the list of items there. This image is embedded with a link to the articles 'Manage Reading Order in your Venngage Design'.


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