Led by Cheryl Pruitt, Director of the Accessible Technology Initiative, the Chancellor’s Office at California State University (CSU) approached CommonLook, the world’s leading developer of PDF accessibility solutions and services, with a simple question: How can you help us make sure that the technology purchased is used effectively and consistently to provide accessible Microsoft Office documents and tagged compliant PDF documents?

Our enthusiastic response resulted in a two-year collaborative pilot project that can be used as a blueprint to assist other academic organizations in ensuring that Microsoft Office documents and PDF documents are accessible to the broadest range of people on campus

CSU Policy

CSU has an overarching policy on accessible PDF documents that comply with Section 508 and eventually the Refresh of Section 508. However, each campus is autonomous in implementing the policy and determining its own timeline for compliance.

The CSU system is made up of 23 campuses across the state of California. CSU wanted to start the project with the Chancellor’s Office and then bring campuses on board two at a time with the Campus 101 Program.

In having the Chancellor’s Office as the starting point, CSU clearly identifies the increased need for training on creating more accessible PDF documents. The Chancellor’s Office provides a leadership role for other campuses in the CSU family.

The documents produced by the Chancellor’s Office are slightly different than those you might find in other departments and campuses. They are primarily reports, memos, policy papers or program related. This made the Chancellor’s Office a great place to start the project.

Solution – A Collaborative Process

Over a two-year period, the CommonLook team collaborated with CSU staff.  They carefully identified the needs of the Chancellor’s Office, and participating staff members, over the course of several meetings. Components of the program were discussed, evaluated, approved, and implemented. The discussions continued throughout the pilot.

Every component of the program was analyzed to fine tune the resources and the needs of the Chancellor’s Office staff. One of the results of our discussions was a way to provide an initial five concurrent licenses for CommonLook Office GlobalAccess and five concurrent licenses of CommonLookPDF GlobalAccess for a pool of twenty staff. Typically, five staff members would be working to make Microsoft Office documents accessible, while another five people were remediating PDF documents.

Through the CommonLook Office GlobalAccess licenses and training, additional needs were uncovered related to accessible Word and PDF documents. This opened a new opportunity to listen and collaborate on solutions.

CommonLook developed a series of five training webinars, which busy staff could easily access through CSU’s new online portal, with minimal effort and cost. The first two webinars provided training on CommonLook Office GlobalAccess. The remaining three sessions provided training on CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess.

As part of the pilot, CSU purchased licenses for CommonLook Office GlobalAccess to assist with remediating Microsoft Office documents to convert to tagged PDF documents; and licenses of CommonLook PDF GlobalAccess to ensure that PDF documents are accessible. CSU was provided with training time and customized resources including short videos to assist staff in using the tools in a way that may be unique to their campus culture and ecosystem.


This is the first time that an extensive collaborative project to provide an overarching solution on the need for accessible PDF documents has been undertaken by a leading university (CSU) in cooperation with a leading provider of PDF accessibility tools (CommonLook) and services. The progress made and the experience developed should prove invaluable to CSU and to other universities as they grapple with the challenges of document accessibility.

The ramp up time was two years. CSU and CommonLook teams were careful to ensure that the needs of the Chancellor’s Office and participants were fully addressed. The program was highly effective, and a model to replicate on individual campuses.

Through the webinar and training program, CommonLook trainers identified components requiring further development and gained other insights. For example, basic training accessible Word document would be beneficial for participants.

Future implementations of the Campus 101 Program will take only six months to complete. The program duration will be twelve months, followed by a metrics review using the Utilization Reporting Tool.

The key is in listening to the needs of our customers and not being afraid to venture into new territory!

In terms of the importance of inclusive education, the World Bank states that for every year spend in school, a person with a disability has the potential to increase their income by 10%”.