On this page:  Opening the Validator | Testing for Compliance | Using the Results | Other Ribbon Buttons | Generating a Report | Advanced Tools | Making a Document Compliant

Opening the CommonLook PDF Validator

  1. Open a PDF in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. In the toolbar at the top of the Acrobat window, choose Plug-Ins -> CommonLook -> CommonLook PDF Validator.  The ribbon in Acrobat showing Plug-Ins, CommonLook, and the CommonLook PDF Validator launch.
    • If the document is tagged, the CommonLook PDF Validator will open and allow you to test for compliance (skip to step 3 below).
    • If the document is not tagged, an error message will pop up stating that the document is not tagged.  Please add tags to the document and then open the CommonLook PDF Validator.  Note:  To add tags to a PDF, follow these steps:
      1. Open the untagged PDF,
      2. Click the Tag icon in the navigation pane (on the left side of the application window),
      3.  In the Tags panel, right click on “No Tags available,”
      4. Choose “Add Tags to Document,”
      5. Save.
        Screen shot showing the steps to add tags to a PDF as previously outlined.
  3. When the interface opens, the Tags tree will be displayed on the left side of the screen, the Physical View of the document will be displayed in the middle, and the Standards and Properties panels will be shown on the right.

Testing for Compliance

Use the Standards Panel to test a PDF document for compliance with accessibility guidelines.  There are two checks that can be run on any PDF document:  A “Structural” check and an “Accessibility” check.  Click the arrow next to “Standards” to open the checking options.

The Standards panel with the Standards checker highlighted and opened to show the check options.

Running a “Structural” Check

A “Structural” check will test the following items in a document:

  • Verify that Lists, Tables, and Table of Contents, are assembled correctly (with the correct elements and that those elements have been nested properly),
  • Check to make sure hyperlinks are not broken,
  • Test for table regularity,
  • Verify that tags have been properly nested,
  • Look for empty tags in the Tags tree, and
  • Look for empty tags that have alternative text.

To run a “Structural” check, follow these steps:

  1. Choose “Structural” from the list of check options in the Standards panel,
  2. Click “Full” at the lower right corner of the panel,
    The Standards panel showing the Structural check option selected and the "Full" check button identified.
  3. Below the physical view, the Results panel will open listing all of the checkpoints and their status as relevant to the document.  A checkpoint may be “Passed” if it can be tested automatically and found to be in compliance (for example when a List is correctly assembled).  A checkpoint may be “Failed” if automated testing finds an issue in the document.  Some checkpoints require manual verification – these will be marked “User Verification.”  Other checkpoints may present potential problems (marked as a “Warning”), may be “Not Applicable,” or may be “Skipped.”  In addition, a brief description will be provided for the checkpoint.
  4. Near the top left corner of the Results panel is a “Filter by:” drop down menu.  Click in the box that says “All” to open the menu.  Then, uncheck “All” and select the checkboxes for “Failed,” “User Verification,” and (optionally) “Warning.”  This will make it easier to see the errors in the document without having to sort through all of the checkpoints that have passed and/or are not applicable.
    The Filter By drop down menu is expanded with the checkbox for All unchecked and the checkboxes for Failed, User Verification, and Warning are selected.
  5. Refer to the section below for information on using the verification results.

Running an “Accessibility” Check

Running an “Accessibility” check is similar to running a “Structural” check for a document – the difference being that this verification will test the document against one (or more) specific set(s) of accessibility criteria.

To run an “Accessibility” check, follow these steps:

  1. Choose “Accessibility” from the list of check options in the Standards panel,
  2. Select the standard (or standards) against which to test the document (options include Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, PDF/UA, and HHS),
  3. Click “Full” at the lower right corner of the panel.
    The Standards panel open, the Accessibility Check options displayed, and the Full check button identified according to the steps as outlined.
  4. As when running a “Structural” check, below the physical view, the Results panel will open listing all of the checkpoints and their status as relevant to the document.  A checkpoint may be “Passed” if it can be tested automatically and found to be in compliance (for example if an image in a Figure tag has Alternative text).  A checkpoint may be “Failed” if automated testing finds an issue in the document (for example, an image in a Figure tag that does not have Alternative text).  Some checkpoints require manual verification – these will be marked “User Verification.”  An example of this scenario would be the following:  If an image in a Figure tag does have Alternative text then this becomes a “User Verification” checkpoint so that the accuracy of the Alternative text can be verified.  Other verification results may be listed as “Warnings” (if there are potential problems), checkpoints may be “Not Applicable” in a particular document, or the checkpoint may be “Skipped (based on checkpoint configuration settings).”  A brief description will also be provided for each checkpoint.
    The results panel as shown when running an Accessibility check in the CommonLook PDF Validator.
  5. Near the top left corner of the Results panel is a “Filter by:” drop down menu.  Click in the box that says “All” to open the menu.  Then, uncheck “All” and select the checkboxes for “Failed,” “User Verification,” and (optionally) “Warning.”  This will make it easier to see the errors in the document without having to sort through all of the checkpoints that have passed and/or are not applicable.
    The Filter By drop down menu is expanded with the checkbox for All unchecked and the checkboxes for Failed, User Verification, and Warning are selected.
  6. Refer to the section below for information on using the verification results.

What is an “Incremental” Check?

Running an Incremental check will only test the items that have changed since the last validation was run (in the current session).  Conducting a Full check will start the validation process over again from the beginning.  The benefit of an Incremental check is, when changes have been made to the verification results – for example when changing a checkpoint status from “User Verification” to “Passed” (as discussed below) – these changes are maintained and the checkpoints are not re-tested (requiring re-verification).

Using the Verification Results

Change the status of a checkpoint:

If the status of a checkpoint needs to be changed, for example when the Alternative text for an image has been verified for accuracy, users can change the result from “User Verification” to “Passed.”  Note:  When the status of a checkpoint is manually changed, the comment “Verification result set by user” will be entered in the report to indicate that changes have been made.

  1. Click on an error in the Results panel and then click the Status button at the top of the Results panel to show that checkpoint’s Status Dialog window.  The buttons at the top of the Results panel in the CommonLook PDF Validator. The Status button is highlighted.
  2. Click the result at the top of the Status Dialog window to change the checkpoint’s status.  Remember, a comment will be automatically added when changing the status.  However, if you prefer to enter your own comment, type it into the Comments box at the bottom of the Status Dialog window.
  3. Click OK

Check the Tags

To verify that the correct tags are being used for the content of the document, and to verify that the reading order is correct, follow the steps below.  (Remember that reading order is a “User Verification” checkpoint.  To certify that the reading order is correct, click (or use the down arrow on the keyboard) to move through the tags verifying that the tag order follows the logical reading of the document as observed in the physical view.)

An important distinction:  In Acrobat, users can view the “Order” panel.  However, screen readers do not use this information to determine the reading order for a document.  Screen readers will present the content of a document in the order that it appears in the Tags tree.  For this reason, it is crucial to verify that the tags are in the correct order!

  1. On the left side of the screen, open the Tags tree by clicking the arrow to the left of the “Tags” icon.
    The Tags tree opened in the CommonLook PDF Validator. The arrow to open the Tags tree is highlighted.
  2. Click on the tags, or use the down arrow on the keyboard, to move through the tags.  Use the physical view to verify that:
    • The correct tag is being used for the content on the page, and
    • The tags are in the correct reading order.

Tips:

  • Selecting a tag in the Tags tree will highlight the content in the physical view of the document.
  • The right arrow on the keyboard will open a particular tag to show its contents.  This is particularly helpful to verify that lists, tables, and tables of contents have been assembled correctly.  (The left arrow will close tags.)
  • Highlighting content in the physical view (drawing a box around it with the mouse) will reveal that content in the Tags tree.

View Tag Properties

When a tag (or other element) is selected in the Tags tree, information pertaining to that tag will be displayed in the Properties panel on the right side of the screen.  Use this panel to verify that the information associated with the selected item is correct.  Using the Properties panel, users may verify:

  • Tag type,
  • The language setting for a particular tag,
  • Presence and accuracy of:
    • Alternative text for images, links, other tags,
    • Link Annotation “Contents,”
    • Table Summary,
    • Tooltips for Form annotations,
    • List numbering attributes,
  • Other properties depending on the selected tag or element.

View Role Maps

In general, tagging in a PDF is similar to simple html tagging.  A “P” tag is used for a paragraph, “L” is used for a list (PDF does not specify ordered or unordered lists), and tables use “TR” for table rows, “TH” for header cells, and “TD” for data cells.  Depending on how the document is created, sometimes there will be custom or non-standard tags used.  While the use of non-standard tags is allowed, it is required that these tags be mapped to standard PDF tags.

To verify whether or not custom tags have been correctly mapped to standard tags:

  • Click the Role Map button in the Windows tab,
    The Role Map button on the Windows tab of the CommonLook PDF Validator.
  • When the panel opens, the custom tags will be listed on the left side of the panel and their standard tag equivalent will be listed on the right.  Check to make sure that custom tags are associated with the proper standard tag.

The Role Map panel open in the CommonLook PDF Validator. On the left is the list of custom tags and on the right shows the standard tag to which custom tags will be mapped.

View the Untagged Content

When the “Untagged Content” button is selected in the Windows tab, the Tags panel (on the left side of the screen) changes to the “Untagged Content” panel.  Here, organized by page, will be all of the elements in the document that are not tagged.  (Untagged elements in a document are also referred to as “artifacts.”)

The Untagged Content button on the Windows tab of the CommonLook PDF Validator.

Click the arrow to the left of a page to reveal the “Annotations” and “Artifacts” folders for that page.  Click the arrows next to those folders (if applicable) to reveal their contents.

The Untagged Content panel in the CommonLook PDF Validator. Page 1 is opened to show the Annotations and Artifacts folders inside.

Verify the Tabbing Order

An important component in document accessibility, especially for documents containing links and/or forms, is that the tabbing order follows the document structure (as determined in the Tags tree).  Along with checking the untagged annotations and/or other artifacts, the Untagged Content panel allows the user to verify that the document’s tabbing order is correct.  To verify the tabbing order for the document, follow these steps below:

  1. Open the Untagged Content panel,
  2. Choose a Page (or pages).  (Do not open the page’s contents, simply select the page itself)  The Untagged Content panel open with the pages individually listed.
  3. In the Properties panel (on the lower right side of the user interface), verify the tabbing order (marked as “Tabs” in the panel) is set to follow the document’s structure (the “S” radio button should be selected).  Note:  In the screen shot below, the “S” radio button is not selected and, consequently, this document is not in compliance with the tabbing order requirement.

The Properties panel as related to the Untagged Content. The tabbing order is identified.

Verify Bookmarks

In the Windows tab, click the Bookmarks button (the first icon on the left) to open the bookmarks panel.

The Windows tab in the CommonLook PDF Validator. The Bookmarks button is highlighted.

Screen readers can use headings to navigate through a document similarly to how people typically use bookmarks.  For this reason, it is ideal to have the bookmarks and the heading levels match.

If there is an arrow next to “Bookmarks” in that panel, then the document has bookmarks.  Click the arrow, like in the Tags tree, to view the Bookmarks and verify their accuracy.  If there is not an arrow next to “Bookmarks” in that panel then the document does not have any bookmarks.  Keep in mind that not all documents are required to have bookmarks; this criteria is determined in part by the length of the document.

Verify Metadata

Click the third button from the left in the Windows tab to open the Metadata panel at the lower right side of the user interface.

The Windows tab in the CommonLook PDF Validator with the Metadata button highlighted.

Here, it is possible to verify:

  • The accuracy of the document title and that it will be displayed (as opposed to the file name),
  • Keywords (separated by semi-colon),
  • Subject,
  • Author (the author should be the name of the organization, department, division, etc. who created the document – not a specific person’s name),
  • The language and the Country are appropriate for the document (as a whole).  Note:  Sometimes a document will use one or more languages.  The language for the document as a whole is set here.  For portions of a document that need to be read in a different language, make sure that those sections are tagged appropriately and the correct language is assigned to those specific tags.

The Metadata panel in the CommonLook PDF Validator.

Other Buttons in the Ribbon

Reset Panels Location

The Windows tab in the CommonLook PDF Validator. The Reset Panels Location button is highlighted.

Throughout the course of verifying a document it is possible to open, close, and move around the various panels that are mentioned in this guide.  In addition, when finishing work on one PDF, closing it, and then opening another for document verification, whatever panels were previously open will be open when the software is re-launched.  Clicking “Reset Panels Location” provides a quick and easy way to return to the “default” view of the user interface.

Help

Click the Help button in the Windows tab to open this User’s Guide.
The Help button in the Windows tab of the CommonLook PDF Validator.

About

Click the About button in the Windows tab to display version and copyright information as well as to access a link to the CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess document remediation software.

The About button in the ribbon of the Windows tab in the CommonLook PDF Validator.

Generating a Compliance Report

The CommonLook PDF Validator is a powerful tool to assess whether or not PDF documents are compliant.  After a document has been checked, whether any changes (such as to the status of various checkpoints) have been made or not, it may be very helpful to also generate a report attesting to the document’s accessibility (or lack thereof).

Follow the steps below to generate a report for a particular document.  (Note:  The report will be created as an .html file (not PDF) so that it is easily accessible and compliant, eliminating the need to check the report itself for accessibility!)

  1. Run a “Structural” or “Accessibility” check as outlined in those sections above.
  2. If the “Filter” dropdown menu was changed from “All” to other options (for example, if it is set to display only the Failed or User Verification checkpoints) then open the dropdown menu and check the “All” checkbox.
  3. Click the “Report” button immediately to the right of the “Filter by” dropdown menu.
    The Results panel in the CommonLook PDF Validator with the Report button highlighted.
  4. A dialog box to save the report will open.  By default, the report will be saved in the same destination where the PDF is held and the report’s file name will be the same as the PDF.  Make any necessary changes and then click Save.
  5. (Optional)  Navigate to the folder where the report was saved and open it to view.

After all of the verifications have been run and reports have been generated, if the document is found not to be in compliance, it needs to be fixed.

Please refer to the section below on Making a Document Compliant

Advanced Tools – Checkpoint Configurations

Creating a New Checkpoint Configuration

Some users may wish to create custom checkpoint configurations, for example turning on or off various checkpoints and/or their components, to meet specific organizational needs.  (Note:  This is to create a new configuration of how a particular standard is tested – it is not to create a new standard.)

Follow these steps to create a new checkpoint configuration:  (Note: these steps are also illustrated sequentially in the screen shot following the list.)

  1. Click the Checkpoint Configuration button in the Windows tab (the second button from the left).
  2. In the Checkpoint Configuration panel, choose “Create.”
  3. Name the new checkpoint configuration.
  4. Select the standard upon which to base your new configuration.  (In the screen shot below, WCAG 2.o has been selected.)
  5. Select the Checkpoints, Guidelines, Criteria, etc. to edit.
  6. Select the guideline’s Properties to enable, disable, or otherwise edit as needed.
  7. Click “Save and Load configuration.”
  8. Run the verification as outlined in the sections on running checks, above.  (Note:  If your new checkpoint configuration is based on the “Structural” standards then you’ll need to run a “Structural” check.  If you chose one of the compliance standards, for example, WCAG 2.0, then run an “Accessibility” check.

 

Creating a new checkpoint configuration in the CommonLook PDF Validator. The various buttons and options as described in the listed steps are highlighted in the screenshot.

Editing the Existing Checkpoint Configurations

Aside from creating a new checkpoint configuration, it is possible to edit the existing checkpoint configurations.

Important:  If the user is not careful, editing the checkpoint configuration can create some issues when trying to run the software.  Proceed through these steps with caution!  (It may be safer to create a custom configuration instead, as described in the previous section.)

  1. Click the Checkpoint Configuration button in the Windows tab (the second button from the left).
  2. In the Checkpoint Configuration panel, choose “Edit.”
    The Checkpoint Configuration panel open with the Edit tab highlighted.
  3. From the “Existing configuration” dropdown, choose “Configuration.xml.”
  4. Choose the Standard from the dropdown below.  This will be the framework from which edits will be made.   The edit checkpoint configuration panel showing the standards to reconfigure.
  5. Next, choose the particular checkpoints within the chosen standard.  In the screenshot below, the WCAG 2.0 Standard has been chosen, Guideline 1.4 has been opened, and in the Properties window for that checkpoint, the user can enable or disable that checkpoint as well as configure other settings.
    Editing a particular checkpoint including turning on or off various checkpoint options.
  6. When finished making changes, click “Save configuration.”
  7. Run a verification according to the steps outlined above in the Testing for Compliance section of this user’s guide.

Making a Document Compliant

Once a document has been tested using the CommonLook PDF Validator, it may be necessary to fix some issues to bring it into compliance.

For this task, we highly recommend using CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess.  Follow this link to learn more about CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess.