3 Tips for Tackling PDF Accessibility in Large Companies

A team of coworkers gathered around a computer tackling PDF accessibility.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice issued guidance clarifying that the ADA requires all organizations to make their websites’ digital content accessible to people with disabilities who use assistive technology, including PDFs. PDFs are often not accessible to people with disabilities unless they’re specifically tagged for accessibility. So while PDFs documents are easy to share and download, many customers, employees, board members, stockholders, and others may not be able to receive important company information. When people with disabilities can’t access your digital content, their most effective remedy is often costly litigation. Larger organizations are often more at risk simply because they produce more content and have the potential to reach more people. 

Large corporations may produce hundreds or thousands of PDFs across many different departments. Your website’s overall accessibility may fall to the IT department or a webmaster. However, it would place a significant burden on that team to also have to remediate every PDF resource that is available on the website. 

Anyone who creates PDFs for your organization should be responsible for making their content accessible for assistive technology users. That includes everything from marketing materials (whether they’re produced in-house or by an outside agency), notices sent to board members, monthly client billing statements available through the website, and everything in between.

 With so many departments contributing, tackling PDF accessibility in a large company can be difficult. 

 

1. Put someone in charge of tackling PDF accessibility

Without a unified effort, many departments may not realize their content needs to be accessible or how to accomplish that task. Putting one person or a small group in charge of PDF accessibility provides a centralized resource to whom content creators can direct their questions or concerns. 

The main job of whoever is in charge of PDF accessibility would be to make sure other content creators are aware of the expectations for accessibility and how they can meet them, and likely wouldn’t be remediating much content themselves. That also includes creating and enforcing a policy for PDF remediation. They might also be in charge of evaluating the accessibility of current content, identifying possible PDF accessibility software solutions, providing or facilitating training, and scheduling regular audits. 

It can also be helpful to assign someone to keep track of PDF accessibility within each department as well. That person can ensure all documents produced by that department are accessible.

 

2. Find all the PDFs

Marketing/ Communications

Most marketing and communications departments create lots of promotional material like brochures, pamphlets, ebooks, one-pagers, and white papers along with letters, notifications, and company announcements. While PDFs are a popular file type for distribution because they maintain their original design no matter how they are accessed, PDFs are often inaccessible to people using assistive technology if they’re not tagged correctly. 

This doesn’t just apply to marketing materials produced in-house. If an outside marketing or graphic design agency produces your content, their designs and documents need to be accessible as well. 

Marketing departments may have individual documents that need to be remediated before they’re posted on the website. If your company is new to PDF accessibility, they may also have a backlog of documents living on the website from years ago that also need to be remediated. 

 

Billing

The billing department might not directly produce website content, but it may produce customer statements that are available for download through a company’s website. These statements are probably mass-produced with very little direct human interaction, especially for financial institutions or banks. Depending on the size of the organization, billing departments may produce hundreds or thousands of these documents every month. 

 

Human Resources

The human resources department produces policy and benefits documents that every employee needs to be able to access. They might also create documents and PDF forms for new or prospective employees. These documents might be available on your company website or intranet, or via email. 

 

3. Get everyone involved in PDF accessibility

Find the right PDF solution for each department

Because each department produces different quantities and styles of PDFs, just one PDF remediation solution might not be the most effective for everyone. Evaluate the team’s skillset and the amount of time they have to commit to PDF accessibility. 

 

What skills does each department member have?

Making a PDF accessible requires adding tags and making sure they’re structured correctly.  If departments lack accessibility experience, choose a software that does most of the work for you. Equidox features AI-powered Smart Detection Tools, which automatically identify most PDF elements. Then remediators simply need to review the zones to make sure they’re correct. Training takes just an hour, your entire team can be quickly trained to use the software and remediate their own documents, no matter their skill level.

 

Does each department have enough manpower and time to remediate all of their own documents?

If there simply aren’t enough people in a particular department to remediate all the PDFs they produce, especially if there is a significant backlog of inaccessible documents, it might make sense to hire a company to remediate those documents for you. Equidox offers expert PDF remediation services. Professional remediators remediate documents and validate them manually using screen readers so every document is compliant, accessible, and usable.

 

How much automation/repetition does the department rely on?

Maybe your organization creates lots of similar PDFs, like product manuals in a number of different languages, or brochures that are similarly-structured for each product. Equidox allows you to reuse the structure of a previously remediated document by copying and pasting it into a similar document. Small adjustments can then be made to accommodate any minor variations. 

Many large corporations generate hundreds or thousands of repetitive documents such as billing statements, invoices, or financial reports for clients, board members, and other stakeholders. When all of those automatically-generated documents need to be accessible, Equidox offers custom-built high-volume solutions which can fully automate the remediation process. Because it’s built specifically to suit your unique documents, it produces completely accessible, usable documents and can be integrated into your statement-production workflow on demand.

 

Keeping all the options under one roof

When each department creates very different PDF content and has staff with different skills and abilities, you might need a variety of different PDF accessibility solutions. Choose a company that can offer a variety of options so you don’t need to find and procure services and software from multiple companies. 

 

Train everyone

Make sure everyone knows they are responsible for using whatever PDF remediation solution that suits each department’s needs. That might mean training departments on the process of pulling existing documents from the website and sending them to a PDF remediation service. Or it might mean training another department on how to use PDF remediation software themselves to make their documents accessible. For still other departments, such as billing, it might mean working with IT and training them how to implement a custom automated process into the current statement-generation workflow. 

Keep in mind that training isn’t just a “one and done” process. New employees will also need to be trained. Existing employees will need to be re-trained when their PDF remediation solution changes or is updated, or if they’re moved to a different department. 

 

Keeping track of PDFs and their creators to tackle PDF accessibility

Assigning a PDF accessibility “champion” within each department can make keeping track of PDF easier. Provide each department PDF accessibility solutions that accommodate their unique needs and the skills of the department members. Then train everyone on how to use the best solutions for their documents, even if that means instructing them to send their documents to someone else to remediate. Getting everyone on the same page for PDF accessibility is the best way to make sure all the content your company produces can reach everyone.

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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Onix 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.”