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Welcome to the June 2016 issue of the CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter!

Expand your “Accessibility Tips and Tricks” toolkit this month: read on to find out helpful hints that Adobe Acrobat Alone Can’t Do.

On the accessibility news front CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess is one of the first software products to be granted the ATAG 2.0 certification by W3C.

Finally, as June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season, check out our report as to how the City of Los Angeles merged Accessibility and Preparedness.

As always, we welcome your suggestions for upcoming topics and would like to know what you think of NetCentric’s CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter.

Use this link to share your comments or story ideas with the CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter staff.

We Hope You Enjoy!

The CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter Team



Tips and TricksAdobe Acrobat Alone Doesn’t Do


“Achieving PDF Accessibility Doesn’t Have to Be a Tortuous, Mysterious Process. It’s not Acrobat’s Fault, It’s Got Other Things to Keep It Busy”

As one would expect, we’re often asked at NetCentric Technologies about the value of the CommonLook® PDF GlobalAccess plug in for Adobe® Acrobat.®

It’s certainly true that Acrobat has a number of built-in accessibility tools, but as we like to point out, CommonLook dramatically reduces the time to evaluate and repair PDF documents and forms when compared to using Adobe Acrobat alone.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Acrobat (after all, CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess is an Acrobat plug-in) and we love PDF at NetCentric — so much so that we wanted to encourage the production of accessible PDF files by making the process easier, more efficient, and more accurate than if you were to rely exclusively on Adobe Acrobat’s basic but limited accessibility toolset.

If you’re interested in PDF Accessibility, you’ll appreciate CommonLook’s ability to make up for these deficiencies in Acrobat’s standard accessibility tools. Let’s consider a few of the examples where CommonLook helps compensate for some weakness in the Acrobat accessibility toolset.


Let’s face it, sometimes mistakes are made. For most editing actions in Acrobat, there is no ability to undo. For those that can be undone, there is only one level of undo. CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess provides unlimited undo, allowing users to retrace their steps back to a desired state.


The Adobe Accessibility Checker does perform some valuable tests and it references a lot of WCAG Checkpoints. However, not all of the WCAG Guidelines are covered. CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess evaluates against Section 508, WCAG 2.0, and PDF/UA.


A lot of PDF files are not completely or consistently tagged. In Acrobat, you have to manually work your way through a document to find instances of content that should receive the same tag, such as <H2>. CommonLook has an algorithm that allows you to select an instance of an element, whether a Heading or a Paragraph, and based upon the properties (font, size, style, color), all other instances of that element throughout the document will be tagged in the same manner. This works for 3, 30, or 300 pages.


Sometimes you need to find a tag of a certain type. Acrobat does not provide a search tags function. CommonLook does.


There’s no further explanation needed here. In Acrobat, precise placement of the cursor in the tags tree is difficult because the cursor is so small and movements on the tree are so sensitive.  CommonLook allows users to highlight content in the document view and Insert a Tag based on that selection. The Tag the user chooses is inserted in the proper location of the tags tree. CommonLook also makes the distinction between inserting a tag into the Read Order and Converting a tag of one type to another; again, two very useful features not available to users of Adobe Acrobat.


With Acrobat, you have to scour the tags tree, find tags of one type, select them (one at a time), and then type in the replacement tag. With CommonLook, you can find all the tags of one type and replace them with tags of another, among other actions that can be taken against entire groups of tags. This really is useful when it’s necessary to replace the custom tags some applications create with one of the standard accessibility tags recognized by assistive technology.  CommonLook even allows you to substitute role mapped tags with standard tag they have been role mapped to.

There is No Merge Tags Command in Acrobat

Sometimes, two need to become one. With Acrobat you cannot merge two adjoining paragraph tags into one. This may be necessary if someone places an errant carriage return in what should be, and appears to be one single paragraph. CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess permits the merging of tags.


There are some automated fixes available in Acrobat. For example, if the Initial View setting is not set to Title, then a right mouse click on a failed Title test allows a user to select the Fix option to correct it. Furthermore, if there is no Title, you will be prompted to provide one.

This is not typical, however. Most errors point to the Accessibility Report, which is a link to the website, where detailed instructions for manually repairing the issue are provided. This means you will need an active internet connection to get to the help file. In CommonLook, all error correction takes place within the user interface. CommonLook provides detailed prompting when a user is asked to provide a value. Furthermore, a Fix Wizard provides guided repair for many accessibility failures, taking users step-by-step through the repair process. For each step, the repair is made with the click of a mouse.


This article is not intended as a critique of Adobe Acrobat’s accessibility features. Acrobat is asked to do many things, accessibility is just one of them. Because CommonLook GlobalAccess PDF is a plug-in devoted exclusively to accessibility and PDF structural compliance standards, it can go a step further by implementing efficient workflows, providing a straightforward standards based approach to verification and remediation of accessibility issues.

This article mentions these advantages of the CommonLook approach not in an attempt to claim one-upmanship over Acrobat, but to inform PDF publishers who want to produce accessible content that there is a tool out there that takes the mystery and frustration out of the process.

Knowing that achieving PDF accessibility doesn’t have to be a tortuous, mysterious process and that it can be an efficient, complete, and thorough procedure should encourage more people not to give up on the production of accessible PDF content and to give CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess a try.






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CommonLook Earns ATAG 2.0 Certification 


CommonLook is pleased to announce W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has used our CommononLook PDF GlobalAccess software for the testing of its ATAG 2.0 Guidelines, making us one of the first companies to have Accessibility Authoring tools certified by the program.
The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0 provides guidelines for designing web content authoring tools that are both more accessible to authors with disabilities (Part A) and designed to enable, support, and promote the production of more accessible web content by all authors (Part B). Full information about the program can be viewed at the ATAG Overview page on the W3C website.
CommonLook, a global leader in document accessibility, provides software products and professional services enabling faster, more cost-efficient, and more reliable processes for achieving compliance with the leading PDF and document accessibility standards, including WCAG 2.0 AA, PDF/UA, HHS and Section 508.


The City of  Los Angeles, Accessibility  and Preparedness  




Accessibility and the City

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the city you live in is facing a natural disaster – it could be a fire, flood, hurricane, or some other natural or man-made catastrophe.

Whatever the situation may be, you’re in immediate need of important information on how to secure your safety and survival and that of your loved ones.  You log on to your computer and visit your city’s emergency management agency’s website, seeking information on shelter locations, evacuation plans, and other emergency communications from your governing officials. In a matter of moments, you have the elements of a disaster plan you can put into action, thanks to the speed and easy access of information via the World Wide Web.

Now imagine for a moment this same scenario, except one thing is different – you are blind. Logging onto the very same website, you now find that the vital information you seek is not accessible to you, unreadable by your screen reader. In a moment like this, what do you do?

It’s a situation that many individuals with disabilities – visual or otherwise – have confronted and, in a moment of peril, been forced to quickly come to terms with.

Disasters of a Digital Landscape

Natural disasters in our nation’s recent history provide us with an opportunity to consider the problem of providing accessible emergency information to persons with disabilities. Like anyone who may be in the path of nature’s wrath, persons with disabilities turn to government officials for information on disaster preparedness, evacuation details, and survival guides in times of impending danger. Like anyone who may be in the path of nature’s wrath, persons with disabilities  turn to government emergency management agencies for information on disaster preparedness, evacuation details, and survival guides in times of impending danger. While it is certainly never the intention of a municipal government to exclude disabled members of their communities from having equal access to vital, potentially life-saving information, the fact is that many municipalities are falling short in providing equal access on their websites, inadvertently jeopardizing the safety of those with disabilities.

In a post-American Disabilities Act era, municipal governments, like any other organizations, are challenged with creating web content that is accessible to everyone. The undertaking requires creating and implementing a system that works fundamentally across an organization, often times across multiple departments. It can be a daunting task, requiring experts who are not only experts in the field of disaster planning but in the special needs of persons with disabilities. As accessibility is still a relatively new concept in today’s digital landscape, it’s understandable that many municipalities are faced with a significant challenge in providing disaster preparedness information for persons with disabilities.

The City of Accessibility

Spurred by a landmark injunction less than 5 years ago, the City of Los Angeles has made groundbreaking progress that is arguably the first of its kind in the country when it comes to implementing an accessibility plan across a municipal government encompassing 27 different departments. While still in the initial stages of development, the progress they’ve made is significant.

Key Players

Balmore Botero works for LA’s Information Technology Agency (ITA) and serves as the technology liaison and Section 508 conformance auditor for the city.  Nicole Willett is the City’s Public Information Officer for the Department on Disability (DoD).  Their separate entities have been jointly spearheading the city’s accessibility initiative, and Botero and Willett serve as key players and catalysts.

“A few years ago, the city needed to come up with a solid strategy for identifying and correcting emergency documents for Section 508 compliance,” says Botero.  Since that time, the ITA has been has been working closely with Willett and the DoD to create and implement a large-scale, municipal accessibility solution.

Finding a Solution

The ITA and DoD’s first task was to identify a set of tools that would enable city departments to find and fix inaccessible documents, as well as create accessible documents moving forward.

“Our first step was to look at Adobe Acrobat Pro,” says Botero.  “The product could do the job of fixing a document but the learning curve was high and there was no way of discovering which documents were compliant or not.”

The groups also needed to ensure the solution they chose would allow them to test for accessibility against an established standard – in their case, WCAG 2.0. “In order to provide clear guidance, we found that using WCAG 2.0 to test against was a simpler way to “score” a document’s accessibility,” says Botero.  “So whatever product we chose to use had to follow the WCAG 2.0 standard.”

As they researched solutions for their document accessibility issues, they came upon NetCentric and the company’s CommonLook tools. “We found that was a great resource and they listed CommonLook as a useful tool for PDF repair,” says Botero.  “Upon further investigation, we discovered the Clarity product. Clarity would discover and CommonLook Office Pro and CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess would help in the correction process.”

“By using the CommonLook Office software, it provides a simpler tool to check whether a Word or PowerPoint document is accessible,” adds Willett. “It provides a much less cumbersome process than using a screen reader to do so.”

Easy as 1, 2 … 27?!

Once the city had chosen the CommonLook tools as the solution for its departments’ electronic document accessibility needs, implementation was the next step.  Considering the City of LA is a large municipality comprising 27 different departments, it was a sizeable task.

“We’re well underway in the implementation process,” says Botero, “but it sometimes feels like taking baby steps up a mountain.”

“The biggest challenge is the scale,” says Willett.  “There are over 30,000 city employees. Not all create documents, but many do, and we need to ensure the accessibility of those documents moving forward.”

The city made a strategic decision to begin implementation with departments that provided emergency preparedness information. The accessibility of its emergency plans was made a priority in order to ensure a safer environment for all in the event of a natural disaster.  “A huge push came for emergency departments and emergency information to be made accessible,” says Botero. “It was a matter of logistics to say, ‘We’ve got to start small, so let’s start there.’ If we had just gone straight out to all departments and said, ‘Everybody, now, get this done, you’ve got one year’ – it had failure written all over it.”

As a result, the ITA is working in conjunction with the DoD in a tactical fashion, having begun with those departments containing emergency information. Over time, the lessons learned from the emergency preparedness implementation will expand to eventually include all 27 City of LA departments.

Putting the Tools to Work

Using the CommonLook Clarity tool for PDF accessibility testing, Botero runs reports on all departments’ PDF documents containing emergency information. After generating the Clarity reports, it is Botero’s job to explain the reports to the departments and determine how many licenses of the CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess and CommonLook Office Pro tools, which are housed in the DoD, will be needed to proceed.  Botero helps design a workflow, a process that requires a different approach for each department based upon their unique needs and the individuals involved, and Willett is responsible for training employees on creating accessible documents to meet compliance standards using the CommonLook Office Pro tool.  “There was a good deal of resistance to the new layer of work to be done,” Botero admits, “but with just a little bit of practice, they became very good at it.  Selling the concept was a little tricky but with screen reader demos and clear explanations of the errors, people understood.”

CommonLook Training was key to this understanding and to getting stakeholders tasked with ensuring accessibility of their department’s documents on board.  “Training has been and will be essential,” says Botero. “People really have to come to understand why this work has to be done.  As they sit in the training session and ask questions the objective comes into focus.  From there we hope that the trained staff go out to their offices and evangelize the good that comes from creating accessible PDFs.”

An All-Inclusive Culture

While Botero, Willett, and their colleagues at the City of LA may be taking “baby steps up a mountain,” the steps they have made thus far are immeasurable in creating a more accessible city for all of LA’s inhabitants.  “It’s been a big eye-opener for everyone,” says Botero of the process.  “This information is out there and it has to be out there for everyone. It’s all-inclusive. This initiative has really helped the culture of information dissemination.”

Iconic for many reasons, Los Angeles can now add to its many distinctions the creation of a culture of accessibility that will serve as an exemplar for municipalities nationwide, paving the way for them to follow suit.