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Accessibility Tricks Adobe® Acrobat® Alone Does Not 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 CommonLook 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 CommonLook — 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.

Acrobat Has Limited Undo

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.

Acrobat Does Not Evaluate Against Any Recognized Standard

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.

There is No Tag Similar Function in Acrobat

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.

There is No Way to Search for Tags in Acrobat

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

It Isn’t Easy Inserting New or Corrected Elements in the Proper Location

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.

There is No Way to Replace Tags in a Wholesale Manner in 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 tags 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.

CommonLook Does It All. Acrobat Explains a Lot, Does a Little.

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.

Accessibility is Just One of Many Things Acrobat has to Juggle

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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