Once you’ve decided to tackle PDF accessibility in-house with PDF accessibility software, choosing the right software will depend on your unique needs, requirements, and resources. PDF accessibility contributes to the overall accessibility of your website. How do you decide which method is the best way to make your PDFs accessible? Consider these ten factors when choosing software to make PDFs accessible in-house.
What does PDF accessibility software do?
PDF accessibility software makes your PDFs accessible by adding or editing digital tags assigned to each element of your PDF. It can be easy to create an accessible document in Microsoft Word or Google Docs by setting headings, labeling tables, and identifying images with alt text, among other things. But many of those “labels,” better known as “tags,” don’t save with the document when it’s saved as a PDF. Without tags, or with incorrect tags, pieces or even all of a PDF might be invisible to assistive technology, or they might show up in the wrong order.
PDF accessibility software makes it possible to add or edit tags to make the document accessible. The process is called PDF remediation. Using PDF remediation software to add and edit tags allows you to identify tables, lists, headings, text, and other elements, add alt text to images, set the reading order, and more.
Digging into the coding structure of a PDF can be daunting and overwhelming if you’re not familiar with tag trees. Even if you are comfortable with coding, the process is tedious and time-consuming. Software designed for PDF accessibility can make PDF remediation much faster and easier, allowing you to make documents accessible even if you don’t have experience with tag trees or digital accessibility.
Designed for Accessibility
Choosing PDF accessibility software options means that some tools appear attractive if they’re part of another PDF design software suite to which you already have access. PDF design programs can give you access to the tag tree structure of your document and allow you to edit those tags. But when it’s designed to do many different things, PDF software that isn’t dedicated to or designed for accessibility probably won’t make the process easier or faster. Plus, software that isn’t designed for accessibility means more manual work and higher chances of mistakes. If you just need something to get the job done, no matter how long or complicated the process is, using a PDF design program will do that. But if you want something that makes PDF accessibility faster, easier, and helps prevent mistakes, choose a product dedicated to accessibility.
Alternatively, there are some built-in automated tagging features available within PDF design programs. But like any automated solutions, they can only “guess” at the tags based on formatting, like bold text to indicate headings. They also can’t determine whether alt text is correct, if the reading order makes sense, and other essential components of accessibility (more on automated solutions later).
Manual tagging leaves room for operator error
If your PDF remediation tool involves mostly or entirely manual tag tree editing, you can visually verify what you’re tagging and how it’s tagged. By looking at the document, you can verify the tag you’ve added as “H1” is the title of the page, as opposed to leaving it up to a machine to guess. Contextual accessibility issues (mainly, ensuring all the tags added are actually correct and in the right order) make up most of PDF accessibility. However, manually going through pages and pages and pages of tags leaves a lot of room for operator error (you’re only human!). Even one incorrectly tagged element means your PDF is inaccessible.
Automation can’t detect context
However, PDF remediation software that claims to be completely automated with no manual intervention won’t produce a completely accurate document either. Fully automated software is only as accurate as the accuracy of the document’s coding. Generally, choosing PDF accessibility software that is fully automated means you’ll only catch 20-30% of accessibility errors- things like untagged elements or missing alt text. The bulk of PDF remediation involves making sure the context of the document is the same for assistive technology users as it is for sighted users. That means making sure that not only are elements tagged but that they are tagged correctly.
For example, if a heading is tagged as an H3 (subheading) instead of an H1 (title of the document) the end-user won’t realize it’s not just a supporting point but the main focus of the page. Likewise, there is a big contextual difference if an image’s alt text says “woman” or “illustrated person” instead of “Starbucks logo,” though automated software would likely claim that anything in the alt-text field is correct, even if it just said “image” or the filename. Going back to fix any incorrectly tagged elements often means returning to the complicated tag tree, finding the error in a sea of hundreds or even thousands of nested tags, and taking time to adjust each incorrect element.
Combining manual and automated solutions
If neither fully manual nor fully automated PDF remediation software will get the job done correctly, what’s left? Find a solution that uses both manual and automated components. Equidox PDF remediation software uses SOME automated features powered by artificial intelligence to detect where each of the elements are that need to be tagged. These are easily adjustable during the process so you can get as close as possible to a correctly tagged document with just a few clicks. Plus, you can specify tags using keyboard shortcuts, and check your work in real-time with an HTML preview so you can see what assistive technology will “see” when they access your document. Then you can correct any issues without opening a complicated tag tree structure before you export the document.
Like fully automated PDF remediation software, automated PDF accessibility checkers can only catch 20-30% of accessibility errors. They can’t determine essentials like context, the accuracy of alt text, or whether the document’s reading order is correct. Built-in accessibility checkers can be helpful to catch “low hanging fruit” like untagged elements and missing headings, they can’t catch everything. Also, it’s important to remember that when you’re remediating a document for the purpose of meeting particular standards like Section 508 or WCAG, a checker can’t verify every element of success. The goal of accessibility standards is to make sure the document is actually accessible.
To do that, check an HTML preview (which Equidox offers) to make sure the tags are telling assistive technology what the document looks like. The HTML preview shows up the same way the document will appear to assistive technology.
Equidox also offers some helpful output warnings if you’ve missed some of the “low hanging fruit” like missing alt text, heading structure errors, untagged pages, and more. Each error shows a page number so you can easily jump to that page to edit and re-check your work.
No matter what checkers you use- built-in or otherwise- verify every document is truly accessible by using assistive technology like a screen reader to make sure what it’s reading is the same as what the document looks like on the screen. You can do that by using a screen reader (such as NVDA, which is a free, open-source download) and listening to it read your remediated document (this works after you’ve remediated your document with any software!).
Easy to use (and learn)
Any PDF remediation software will allow you to add and/or edit tags in a PDF document. The big difference is whether they help you do that in seconds, minutes, or hours. Similarly, how long does it take to learn how to manipulate the tag tree using that software? Newcomers to accessibility can be easily overwhelmed by complex tag trees in documents, especially when the work to edit them is mostly manual. Editing PDF tag trees manually is time-consuming and tedious even for experienced remediators. Choosing PDF accessibility software that’s easy and fast to both learn and use means you can get more done in less time.
Complicated, manual software will take longer to learn. More time dedicated to learning how to use the software means less time actually remediating documents. More training hours are usually more expensive as well, particularly if you have a large number of people who require training. When it’s difficult to learn, it’s also more difficult for remediators to retain the knowledge they need to efficiently, accurately tag a document, especially if it’s not something they’re doing all day every day. And it means more expense training new staff as well.
Consider how the software is set up for purchase- whether you can purchase licenses per user, per device, or per page remediated. Is it available installed locally on individual computers? That works great if you have one person dedicated to PDF accessibility or one computer for on-site workers that all remediators can use. Software offered by the number of log-ins or users is another great option if you have specific, dedicated remediators who will all be using the software at once.
Equidox offers a concurrent user model, in which an organization can name as many users as they want to have access to the software. The company pays for the number of users who will get access to the software at one time. For example, if a company has a 5-user license, any 5 of the 50 registered users can be logged on at any one time.
The best practice for digital accessibility is to have ALL content creators responsible for their documents’ accessibility. A concurrent user model is great for organizations that choose to make accessibility a priority for every staff member.
Software that allows coworkers to collaborate is especially important for organizations that have very large or very technical documents. If you plan on having one or two people remediating documents for the entire organization, this might not sound important. However, there may be times when you need to break up particularly lengthy documents like textbooks or extensive reports so multiple remediators can work on them together to get the job done faster. Ten people working on a 1,000 page textbook are going to finish far faster than 1 person. Or, you might need input from the original document creator.
Equidox makes that possible from within the software. For example, the person remediating the majority of a document might run into a complicated and intricate graph of last year’s earnings for the company. The CFO, who created the document originally, might be better suited to write the alt text for that graph than the remediator. The CFO can be named as a user and jump in to add that and any other alt text to the document.
Cost is a concern no matter how large your operating budget is. But remember that comparing the cost of different PDF remediation software options isn’t apples-to-apples. Consider not only the price of the PDF accessibility software but also the training involved. Does your license include any future upgrades or are you going to be charged extra? How many people can use the software? How fast will the software make the process, without sacrificing accuracy? Software that requires more manual tagging will cost the company extra man-hours on the project, on top of the cost of the software. Does it require other software to work? Some software only works with other programs, meaning you’ll need to pay for two separate programs to make your documents accessible.
Equidox works on its own and includes everything you need to get started in the license price- training, support, and upgrades- while being the fastest PDF accessibility software available.
Choosing PDF accessibility software means choosing a tool you and your team must learn to use. Is training included in the price of the software? How long will it take? If your remediation team is not familiar with tag tree structures or how to edit them, training can take days or weeks with more manual software to get a grasp of the material, and even longer to become proficient. Once training is complete, will your team have absorbed enough of the information to be able to use the software efficiently and accurately? Easier software means easier, faster training. Also, training can be expensive. Even more so if you require large groups of staff members to learn the software. Complicated software usually requires more training hours, and therefore more money.
Equidox licenses include free training, and users can learn the most important features in just an hour. You can record the training session to reference later as well. Plus, users have access to an extensive user guide and library of videos which they can access on-demand.
Does the software offer live support, or are you limited to a list of FAQs or a user guide to help you when you’re stuck? If there are any software glitches, can someone help you work through them or are you on your own? Are you going to have to pay extra for it?
Equidox offers free support from LIVE North America-based people! Send us an email or message directly from the remediation interface. Plus, you can access our extensive user guide and training videos from within the software as well.
Procurement and security options
If you’re working for a government agency or educational institution, procurement options are important. Check to see whether the company is on any state or federal government procurement schedules.
Equidox software and services are both part of the GSA and CMAS schedules under Onix Networking Corp.
Your organization’s IT team will likely want to know what security measures are in place for any software you consider purchasing. That might include ISO certifications, whether the software is cloud-based vs on-premises, or where your organization’s data is stored.
Equidox is ISO certified and offered as an on-premises or cloud-based solution, whichever suits your needs. Check out our FAQ page for more information.
Finding the right solution
The easiest way to achieve PDF accessibility is with software designed specifically for that purpose. Remember to ask questions, see demos, and try the software for yourself before investing in a remediation solution.
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Nina comes to Equidox with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”