Tables in PDFs

If you have tables in your PDF, chances are you will need to work on them to make them fully accessible. They won’t come out of Word, for example, with good associations between headers and data cells. This page addresses simple tables, ones that have no merged cells. The Complex Tables page explains how to work with more complicated tables.

Why Tables Matter

Zebras, 24, 80, 36, 1013… Without labels, those data points are meaningless. When you can’t see the rows and columns that create visual associations between a table’s headers and its data, you can get lost in a sea of cells. So there are two important parts to making tables accessible:

  1. Identify which cells are headers.
  2. Create machine-readable associations between headers and data cells.

Create Header Cells

Make Table Headers in Word

When you create a document in Word, there is a table property that will create a row of header cells when you convert the document to PDF.

  1. Click in a cell in the row you want to be headers.
  2. Right click and choose “Table Properties.”
  3. In the Table Properties window, click the “Row” tab.
  4. Check the box that labeled “Repeat as header row at the top of each page.”

Of course, this is only a start. It also can’t create row of headers. It can create column headers. But it you’ll have to make the associations between headers and data cells manually, as described below.

Make Header Cells and Associations in Acrobat

The “Touch Up Reading Order” tool includes a “Table Editor” you can use to turn data cells into header cells and associate those cells with rows or columns.

  1. Click the “Order” icon on the navigation bar on the left of your document. The Order icon has a Z-shaped zig zag on it.

    Order Pane
    Another way to open the Order pane is from the “View” menu. Go to “Show/Hide, ” then to “Navigation Panes,” then click “Order.”
  2. Click the “Options” icon near the top of the Order pane.
  3. Select “Show reading order panel.”
  4. Click any of the cells to select it, then click the “Table Editor” button on the reading order panel. (If the Table Editor button is still gray, try clicking in the table again to select a cell.)
  5. After you click the “Table Editor” button, the reading order panel disappears and the table will show its cells.
  6. Right click a cell that you want to make into a header and choose “Table Cell Properties.”
  7. Select “Header cell” and choose a “Scope” to indicate whether the cell is a header for a row, a column, or both. Then click “OK” and repeat steps 6 and 7 for other headers in the table.
  8. When you change a cell to a header, its tag will change from TD to TH and, while you’re in the table editor, it will display in a different color. (You may choose what colors the table editor uses. Right click a table cell and choose “Table Editor Options.”)
  9. When you’re done editing the table, click anywhere outside the table to get back to the reading order panel.