PDF Accessibility: Auto-tagging Fact Checker
Can PDF Documents be Automatically Tagged for Accessibility?
We get this question occasionally from our clients and will discuss this topic in depth over the coming months. The quick answer is “no” if you review the checkpoints listed in the W3C’s PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0, which is what the new Section 508 Refresh is based on. There are several manual check points for color, contrast, reading order, alt-text verification and others that need to be manually verified. Adding tags to a document is the first step in the production of accessible PDF documents. Let’s review the standard process and then discuss some of the alternative solutions on the market.
PDF Tagging Software
You don’t have to purchase additional software to add tags to a PDF document. Adobe Acrobat Professional has a built-in “auto tagger” that will add tags to an existing PDF document. Simply go to “Tools” then select “Accessibility” and then “Auto Tag Document” and Acrobat will go and try to identify the content in the document and assign it the appropriate tag. So now that the tags are created, is the document accessible? The truth is that the Adobe AutoTag feature is just the start of a longer process, to meet any of the accessible standards, whether that be Section 508, HHS, WCAG 2.0 or PDF/UA, there is a full set of checkpoints and guidelines to follow and verify before the document can be certified as meeting one of these accessibility standards.
By Adobe’s own admission, their Accessibility Checker only looks for the basic accessibility checkpoints such as looking to see if there is alternate text for each image, heading levels for navigation and other basic settings but their tool does not certify that files are fully accessible and meet any of the official standards for accessible PDF documents.
Two Proven Methods to Ensure PDF Document Compliance
You can use Adobe Acrobat Pro and follow the many guides for creating accessible documents and remediating the issues and then test the document with a tool such as CommonLook PDF Validator or PAC3.
Or you can use the tool recommended by the W3C and many accessibility organizations that will do both the remediation and the testing, that tool being CommonLook PDF. More and more organizations are discovering that only CommonLook can provide guaranteed accessibility for documents by providing the tools, training and services necessary to ensure compliance with any of the standards for document accessibility.
Other Auto Tagging Methods
So, what about the other auto taggers on the market? There are several vendors that are offering auto tagging tools that claim to be able to tag documents and produce accessible tagged and compliant PDF documents to WCAG 2.0 or PDF/UA standards. But if you take a closer look, there are many missing pieces in their process. Creating tagged documents that are only 60%, 70% or 80% compliant is not good enough and won’t protect you from ADA lawsuits. The fine print on many of their products list the many areas where these products fall short including the following:
- The tools have no way to create Alt Text descriptions or artifact images that do not convey meaningful information and require manual tagging.
- Tables require manual intervention, especially if they are complex.
- Some tools require that the PDF use true type fonts and comply to the ISO 32000 standard.
- Some tools require the end user create template files manually which, like manual remediation, can result in the creation of non-compliant files.
- These tools do not create an accessibility report proving the document meets all the checkpoints and the resulting files are not fully compliant with Section 508, WCAG 2.0, HHS or PDF/UA standards.
Guarantee Compliance in PDFs
The truth is that there is no magic tool on the market today to automatically auto tag PDF documents for accessibility. The only way to have guaranteed compliance to meet any of the accessibility standards for volume PDF document production is to use a tool such as CommonLook Dynamic. The difference between CommonLook Dynamic and other similar tools is that the PDF Accessibility experts at CommonLook can guarantee compliance because we create the templates necessary for ensuring that your volume documents are tagged correctly, with the proper reading order and alt-text added where necessary.
CommonLook Dynamic is the only tool that generates a compliance report for each document created to Section 508, WCAG 2.0, HHS and PDF/UA Standards and is the best way to protect your organization from the liability of inaccessible content on your web sites and internal documents.