The Table Editor That Makes Accessibility a Breeze

 In Articles, PDF Accessibility
A man and woman smile and point at a computer screen as the tables in it come to life in 3D

Why does everyone love to insert data tables – sometimes very complex tables – in their documents? Yet nobody loves to remediate them or make them accessible.

One reason why people struggle to make tables accessible may be because Adobe Acrobat makes it so difficult. Fortunately, CommonLook PDF turns a challenging inconvenience into a faster and easier process with its revolutionary Table Editor, which makes even the most complex data tables – accessible.

Comparing Table Editors: Acrobat vs. CommonLook PDF

To open Acrobat’s Table Editor, to open it, you have to navigate to Acrobat’s Accessibility Menu, choose “Reading Order,” (perhaps then move the Reading Order tool out of the way in the document), make sure that the checkbox for “Show page content groups” is checked, go select the table in the physical view and then, back in the Reading order tool, choose Table Editor. (In addition, you may run into difficulty with opening the Table Editor in Acrobat, depending on how or where you’ve scrolled to in the document.) 

In contrast, to open the Table Editor in CommonLook, simply select a Table tag in the Tags tree, right-click (or otherwise open its context menu) and choose “Show Table Editor.” (Or, select the Table tag and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+F1.)  

Table Editor – Acrobat

When the Table Editor “opens” (it doesn’t really open, it’s just displayed on top of the table in the physical view of the PDF), the tag type (TH or TD) is immediately displayed (with the proper settings selected). However, to get any more information than that, you’ll need to select a cell and then right-click to open its context menu. There, you’ll have options to view the cell’s properties or to open a dialog box for the Table Editor Options. (Basically, in the Table Editor options, you get to choose different colors for things and turn on or off the option to show the cell type – TH or TD.)

From the cell properties option, for the cell that you selected, you can use radio buttons to change it from TD to TH (or vice versa) and, for TH cells, you can verify (and change) their scope. In addition, in the “Attributes” section of the Table Cell Properties dialog, you can verify and change a cell’s Row and/or Column Span, assign it an ID and associate cells with other header cell IDs. Unfortunately, linking the cells to their respective header cells can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process. When you’re done working with one cell, to move to the next, you need to close the Table Cell Properties dialog box, choose the next cell you want to work with and then reopen the Table Cell Properties.

Two frustrated coworkers in an office look at a computer monitor with anger.

Here are a couple of other things that I’ve found regarding working with tables in Acrobat. First, when you choose a TH or TD in the table, it doesn’t show you where that cell is in the Tags. Second, sometimes the Table Editor doesn’t line up well with the cells in the physical view of the PDF, making things harder to see (and associate data and header cells with each other, for example). Also, there are major accessibility issues within Acrobat itself, especially if you’re trying to do the work without your mouse.

Table Editor – in CommonLook

When you open the Table Editor in CommonLook, a new panel will open below the physical view of the document.

In CommonLook’s Table Editor selecting any cell will immediately highlight the content in the physical view of the document and show where that tag is in the Tags tree. In addition, when a cell is (or cells are) selected, the properties (scope for TH cells, row and/or column span, etc.) will be displayed in the Properties panel.

CommonLook PDF's table editor screen shot showing header rows and columns in blue with numbers in the rows and columns.

Unlike Acrobat’s Table Editor, the Table Editor in CommonLook PDF makes it easy to check and correct if needed, the layout of the table. Some issues that occasionally come up are rows having too many (or too few) cells, cells not spanning the correct number of rows or columns and content that belongs in one cell being split between multiple cells or rows. These issues can easily be resolved with functionality like “Insert cell (or row) before (or after)” and “Merge Tags.” Or, with the necessary cells selected, navigate to the Properties panel and correct the row and/or column span as needed. Similarly, if you need to convert cells to TH or TD, this can easily be done with the quick buttons at the top of the Table Editor. In fact, with the click-of-a-button, you can easily convert data cells to header cells and set their scope to either column or row.

Then, when it comes to linking your data cells to the correct header cells, CommonLook makes this incredibly easy. Make sure your header cells are tagged as TH (with the proper scope) and then simply choose the button at the top of the Table Editor to “Generate one level linked headers” or “Generate recursive linked headers.” (You can also do this in the Tags by selecting the Table tag, opening its context menu and then choosing the linking option you want.) CommonLook PDF will automatically create IDs for the header cells and link the data cells to them. This can literally save you hours of pain and frustration that you’d have to endure if you’re doing the job in Acrobat.

In addition to all of the awesome functionality CommonLook provides in the Table Editor, it’s important to note that CommonLook PDF is accessible and keyboard navigable and useable!