PDF Accessibility: Automation vs Remediation Fact Checker

 In Articles, PDF Accessibility

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PDF Accessibility: What Are The Facts?

With the start of the open enrollment season in the Healthcare Insurance industry, there are many discussions about how best to ensure that published Formularies, Directories, EOC and other required documents are accessible. These documents must be accessible and must meet Section 508, WCAG 2.0 and other standards. Organizations that do not meet these requirements are at risk for lawsuits.

There are only two methods available to ensure that these documents are fully accessible and do not expose your organization to risk:

1. Document Remediation

This process ensures that documents are accessible by testing the documents with a tool such as the CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess Validator. Next, a skilled remediator reviews the document andpdf remediation graphic edits its tag tree to ensure that the heading levels, reading order, alt-text, tables and images are all correctly tagged for accessibility. Once the document has been corrected, it will be re-tested, and an accessibility report will be generated showing proof that the document meets accessibility requirements for Section 508, WCAG 2.0, HHS or PDF/UA standards. While this work can be done using Adobe Acrobat, it is difficult to achieve the same results as a professional tool like CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess. Adobe cannot provide a complete accessibility report or ensure that remediated documents meet the required standards. Remediation is labor intensive and requires a special skill set to guarantee that it is properly done.

Certified Section 508 Seal for CommonLookAnother alternative is a professional remediation service such as CommonLook Service. CommonLook® is the only vendor of a full suite of PDF discovery, remediation and creation tools as well as professional remediation services. CommonLook is also one of the few remediation service providers that fully guarantees their work. If you are considering another vendor, ask them what they use to ensure the documents are fully accessible and if they can provide a report showing that the document passes 100% for the standard you are paying them to achieve. Unfortunately, we have worked with clients that paid for remediation services twice because remediated documents were not properly done. Why take the risk when you can have guaranteed compliance? Close is not good enough when it comes to meeting the accessibility standards of remediation.

2. Automation

The other option for ensuring accessible documents is an automation tool. There has been a lot of talk in the industry about these Auto Tagger tools that tag documents created “on the fly” from mainframes and large-scale databases. To remove the myth from the hype, have your automation tools vendor answer the following questions:

Color Checkpoint

When the only way information is conveyed is with color, format, location, font, or another visual indicator, how do they handle it? Case in point is in Formularies that are part of the Open Enrollment programs. Name Brand drugs are typically in all caps, while generic drugs are listed in lower case with bold italics. If this is not properly addressed, it will fail the checkpoint for Color/Contrast under 508 and other accessibility standards.

Complex Reading Order

Does the document have quotes, sidebars, text in multiple columns or other “creative” layout features? Reading order needs to be manually verified when documents are more complex and auto-tagging tools typically will fail on these documents.

Images and Links

Most Auto-tagging tools assign Figure Tags to images accurately, but these tools have no way of determining the correct alternate text descriptions that must be assigned to these figures so that a person using a screen reader can get the same information as someone with sight. Also, when an image is purely used for decoration and has no important information to convey, it should not be tagged but, instead, it should be ignored by a screen reader.


Tables are difficult to tag correctly unless you are using a powerful tool like CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess. Auto-tagger software struggles with tables. The more complex the table is, the higher the chance of failure in the end document.

Tables of Contents

Table of Contents, especially when they are nested with sub sections, are often incorrectly tagged by auto-tagging software or not tagged at all. Both fail accessibility standards including 508, WCAG and PDF/UA.

So, is there an automated solution to PDF Accessibility?

Yes, with CommonLook Dynamic you can create properly tagged documents from mainframe or database systems. This scalable solution is brought to you by the document accessibility experts at CommonLook. Unlike automated tagging services, CommonLook Dynamic addresses the need to ensure that PDF files, which are generated from live data, are accessible. It is a customizable accessibility solution for enterprises which are generating high document volume. Unlike tools that just attempt to auto-tag documents, CommonLook Dynamic:

  • Supports various enterprise systems including mainframes and large-scale database
  • Works in any environment where data can be extracted from the database (e.g., as XML)
  • Flexible and customizable, based on programmable business rules
  • Ensures 100% compliance with Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, PDF/UA and HHS standards

There are many choices for accessible documents, but there is only one leader that has simultaneously developed software tools and provided the only guaranteed remediation service on the market for over 20 years. So, tread carefully when working with potential vendors and be sure to include CommonLook on your short list of potential vendors for PDF document accessibility solutions.