Introduction | How Does It WorkUsing CommonLook Office | Standards Conformance | Quick Start Guide | Additional Training


CommonLook Office is an add-in to Microsoft Word and PowerPoint that enables organizations to ensure the creation of accessible PDF documents and forms without prior knowledge of accessibility.  With CommonLook Office, content authors can immediately begin making high-quality accessible PDF files that conform to U.S. Section 508 (the “Original” standard from 2001), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), WCAG 2.0AA (also the “Revised” Section 508), and/or PDF/UA specifications.

How does it work?

When CommonLook Office is launched and the user chooses the appropriate accessibility standard, the wizard then tests the document against that standard.  Any issues, or potential issues, are brought to the user’s attention so that they can be addressed prior to PDF generation.  After all of the concerns have been addressed and corrected, a tagged, accessible, compliant PDF is created.

In addition, a report may be generated to certify that the PDF document has indeed passed all of the checkpoints relevant to the selected accessibility standard.

Using CommonLook

  1. Open a .DOC or .DOCX File.
  2. Choose CommonLook Office in the ribbon.  The CommonLook Office Tab in the Microsoft Word Ribbon.
  3. Select Create CommonLook PDF.  The Create CommonLook PDF button on the Ribbon in CommonLook Office in Word.
  4. Choose the standard to which the final PDF document should comply. When the software opens, it will test the document against the standard chosen.  (Choose “Cancel” if you need to continue creating/ editing your document.)
    The dialog window to choose your standard when opening CommonLook Office. There is also a cancel button to stop opening CommonLook.
  5. The CommonLook Office panel will appear on the right of the screen.   The checkpoints that need to be addressed in the document will be in bold font.  (The checkpoints that do not need to be addressed for the particular document will not be bold and will also say “Not Applicable” next to them.)  To manually run a checkpoint refer to the section below on “Manually Running Checkpoint(s).”
  6. Follow the instructions in the yellow box at the top of the CommonLook Office Panel.  If more information is needed for a particular checkpoint, choose the “More” link in the yellow box at the top of the panel.  If corrections need to be made to the document, either close CommonLook Office to make the changes or simply make the changes to the Word document from within the CommonLook Office interface.  When making changes from within CommonLook Office, be sure to use the “Reload” button.
  7. As errors are fixed, choose Next Task to move to the next item.
  8. Once all tasks for the current checkpoint have been completed, the first task in the next applicable checkpoint is displayed.
  9. After all applicable checkpoints have been addressed, CommonLook Office generates an accessible PDF.  As previously mentioned, there is also the option to generate a report to certify that the PDF document meets the chosen accessibility standard.

Annotated Documents

CommonLook Office will not process Word files that contain review markup or comments. When attempting to run CommonLook Office on such a document, the user will be warned and CommonLook Office will close.  Turn off “Track Changes,” remove comments, etc., and then open CommonLook Office to make the document accessible.

Manually Running Accessibility Checkpoint(s)

To manually run a checkpoint once, in the current document, open the “All Checkpoints” tab (#1), choose the checkpoint from the list (#2), navigate to the “Current Checkpoints” tab (#3) and follow the instructions provided.

Screen shot for how to manually run a checkpoint in CommonLook Office Global Access.

To set the software to run a checkpoint every time a document is tested, open the “All Checkpoints” tab and choose the checkpoint from the list.  Next, navigate to the “Checkpoint Preferences” tab.  Finally, select the “Checkpoint Navigation Mode” and, using the dropdown menu, set the mode to “AlwaysStop.”

Alternative Workflows

CommonLook Office is designed to guide the user through a complete range of accessibility checks prior to saving a Word document to a PDF.  The sequence of checks corresponds with the ordering of the checkpoints in the selected standard.

One may, however, also choose to address the checkpoints in any order.  Navigate to the “All Checkpoints” tab, choose the checkpoint you want to work with, and then navigate back to the “Current Checkpoint” tab to address the various concerns in the document pertaining to the selected checkpoint.   This procedure can be useful for testing as the document is written. For example, you might choose to run the Table checkpoint after inserting a table, instead of waiting until the whole document has been completed.

Certain advanced options for the application settings are available by selecting the CommonLook Office Preferences button on the ribbon.  Refer to the page on CommonLook Office Application Preferences for more information about these settings.

In addition, the checkpoints themselves have options to always run, always skip, or to only be run when applicable.  Refer to the page on adjusting checkpoint navigation preferences.

Standards Conformance

As previously mentioned, when opening CommonLook Office, the user is asked to choose a standard to which the PDF document should conform.  When used properly, CommonLook Office will generate PDF documents that conform to U.S. Section 508, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), WCAG 2.0 (AA), and/or PDF/UA criteria.

Use the Quick Start Guide

Use the “Quick Start Document” (Microsoft Word) and these Instructions for step-by-step guidance using CommonLook Office on a sample Microsoft Word file.

PDF Accessibility Training

To assist in creating compliant and accessible PDF documents, CommonLook provides training on the use of our software as well as on using MS Word and PowerPoint with accessibility in mind.  Please check the training schedule for more information.