PDF Accessibility and Automation

 In Articles, PDF Accessibility, Software
high tech turquoise and yellow graphic showing information flowing upwards

When it comes to PDF accessibility, 100% standards-compliance (or 100% usability) can’t be achieved entirely through automation. Whether you’re dealing with document creation, testing or repair (remediation) there’s going to be some manual labor required. In fact, if anyone tells you their solution is 100% automated and 100% accurate, they’re either lying or they don’t really know PDF accessibility. But automation can still play a critical role.

First Things First: What Can’t be Done with Automation?

Not everything can be done automatically. Some examples of accessibility issues where automation falls short are:

  • Confirming the accuracy of Alternative text assigned to images and hyperlinks,
  • Verifying the accuracy of tooltips assigned to form fields,
  • Assuring the reading order in a document is correct and logical,
  • Making sure that color, or some other visual cue, is not the only way that information is conveyed,
  • Testing that the contrast between foreground and background is sufficient so that content isn’t hidden (or more difficult for some people to see), and
  • Ensuring that the tag structure is correct including the use of headings and other tags as well as validating the tagging of complex tables, lists and tables of contents.

There are other limitations, too, like being able to automatically test the accuracy of the information contained in a PDF’s metadata, but the above list gives a good indication to the limitations.

How Can Some Organizations Claim Their Automated Solution Works?

When it comes to document creation, CommonLook Dynamic will create 100% accessible and compliant PDFs automatically so that there’s not any remediation work needed after the fact. How can CommonLook make this claim?

CommonLook Dynamic, in fact, is a solution that will automatically create PDFs from databases (or other data sources) without the need for further remediation. Once the PDF is generated, the work is done.

How does CommonLook do this?

Our team of accessibility experts, who have been in the field of PDF accessibility since 1999, work directly with clients to build templates based on the documents that will be created so that when the PDF is made all of the accessibility issues have already been addressed. As part of this template creation process, each template goes through rigorous testing to make sure that PDFs generated from the template are 100% accessible and comply with all standards – Section 508, WCAG 2.0, PDF/UA and HHS. So, while CommonLook Dynamic is an automated solution, we still put in the manual labor needed.

Templates and Automation

What sets us apart from other vendors that use templates and automation is the fact that our developers, who are truly subject matter experts on PDF accessibility, work to create the templates. We know the standards intimately – we actually participate in the organizations that write them. As a result, that knowledge and expertise gets applied to the templates we create. Other vendors will “let” their clients (often the document creators themselves) fix their own templates, but unless these document creators are also experts in PDF tagging, they’re likely to get something wrong, jeopardize the accessibility and compliance of the PDF and open themselves up to legal risk. (It’s been my experience, as someone who has trained a lot of document designers in accessibility, that many of them, prior to training, aren’t experts in the field. They’re brilliant graphic designers, for example, but they don’t know the inner workings of PDF tagging and structure.)

Automation banner showing templating, human editing, machine learning, digital documents and remediation

Meanwhile, because the CommonLook team is made up of experts, when the work is done and the PDF is created, we’ll guarantee that the document is standards-compliant.

What about Automation in Remediation?

CommonLook PDF is the remediator’s tool for fixing PDF documents. While there is a lot of automation built in, there are still checkpoints that need to be manually addressed. Fortunately, CommonLook PDF takes the user through all of those items in the document so that these issues are addressed, and the PDF is accessible.

That being said, we are approaching the dawning of a new day in PDF remediation. CommonLook, the leaders in PDF accessibility, software, services, training and innovation, is about to release the newest solution in PDF remediation which includes machine learning and artificial intelligence.

CommonLook AI Cloud

CommonLook AI Cloud is the first in a series of new tools for improving the speed and accuracy of PDF remediation services using advanced machine learning. More details will be released on this patent-pending technology at the upcoming 34th CSUN Assistive Technology Conference where CommonLook will reveal more about our CommonLook AI Cloud product.

Specific information will be provided at the event, but if you are interested in being involved in our pilot program, fill out our CommonLook AI Partners form.

Don’t Miss Out

If you haven’t already done so, please sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest news and pdf accessibility tips.