PDF Accessibility: Auto-Tagging vs. Automation Fact Checker

 In Articles, PDF Accessibility

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Auto-tagging and Automation Solutions for PDFs

Continuing our theme of Auto-tagging solutions for ensuring PDF documents are accessible and meet the required standards this month, we wanted to talk more about auto-tagging and automation solutions. While there are not many choices on the market for bulk auto-tagging of PDF documents, whether you use Adobe Acrobat or another solution, one thing is clear: auto-tagging of PDF documents is only the first step of the process. Here is how Adobe’s website defines the tagging process:

Tagging is essential for PDF accessibility. Tags establish logical reading order and to provide a means for indicating structure and type, adding alternative text descriptions to non-text elements and substitute text (referred to as actual text) for elements in the PDF document.

Source: https://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/acrobat/pdf-repair-add-tags.html


Alt Tags in PDFs

Auto-tagging whether in bulk via Adobe Acrobat Professional or using a 3rd party tool, attempts to assign the appropriate tags to content such as heading levels, paragraphs, reading order and other structural elements. What Auto-tagging cannot do is assign accurate alt-text descriptions to images, or archive images that do not convey information. Auto-tagging also cannot verify use of color to convey information or verify reading order is correct. As we discussed previously, any file that is tagged needs to be verified against the checkpoints of the standard you are working to achieve, such as Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, HHS and/or PDF/UA.

Auto-Tagging Facts

Any software vendor that states that their tool will auto-tag any PDF document automatically with no human intervention and meet 100% of the standard is just not giving you the full story. If you look at the fine print on many of their claims, they recommend testing the output files using a testing tool such as CommonLook PDF Validator or PAC3 and also will tell you that they will not work with all PDF documents and will require manual remediation if the files don’t meet ISO 32000 standards or if they don’t use standard true type fonts. They also usually don’t add accurate alt-text descriptions and complex tables will require manual remediation using their tools.

Auto-Tagger tools combined with a template tool

Since auto-tagging is not going to generate fully accessible documents, there are some alternative solutions on the market that are designed for bulk PDF document production. These tools are designed for documents that are all the same design but have different content that are created “on the fly” as needed. Many of these documents are often used by banks, insurance companies, utility billing systems and similar organizations. These template-based solutions are designed to allow a company to create an accessibility template where the content of the document is graphically represented, and someone will define the areas of the document and how it should be tagged. In theory, this method can be effective as the document content can be labeled and the business rules applied to identify each area of the document and how it should be tagged for accessibility.

The problem with these solutions is that much like relying on manual remediation of PDF documents, the output is dependent upon the skills of the person creating the template, their knowledge of accessibility and the quality of the tool that is generating the template and doing the tagging of the PDF documents as part of the solution. These tools are often offered by companies that specialize in Content Management Systems or Enterprise Information Management systems but are not accessibility specialists. Their lack of knowledge of the accessibility standards and of the PDF specifications for accessibility is shown by the lack of 100% compliance in the output that is often the case with these systems. In a field like PDF accessibility, if you’re taking on this type of work yourself, getting proper training by other experts is paramount to your success. Creating files that are properly tagged and fully meet accessibility standards is the only way to eliminate legal liability, protect your organization’s reputation and ensure your PDFs are accessible to everyone.

Are there any Automated PDF Solutions to Achieve 100% Compliance?

Since auto-tagging alone does not work and accessibility template solutions are often incomplete, what other choices are available on the market? CommonLook has developed a solution that is a hybrid of the approaches above, leveraging our 20 years of experience in the industry. Our solution is called CommonLook Dynamic and the difference is truly dynamic in comparison with the alternatives out on the market. All PDFs generated by Dynamic pass ALL ISO and accessibility standards, whether that be Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, HHS and/or PDF/UA. Our solution is also the only one that provides you with accessibility reports showing that 100% of the checkpoints have been achieved when the PDF file is created. So, with CommonLook Dynamic, you can have 100% confidence that your files are accessible. Reducing the risk of liability in today’s litigious world is a priority for many organizations and ensuring that these documents that are produced from large systems can now be made fully accessible is great news. Contact CommonLook today for a demo and to discuss how we can help you to achieve guaranteed 100% Compliance with CommonLook Dynamic.