Making your website accessible is non-negotiable. Ensuring that both your physical and virtual locations are welcoming and accessible to all of your potential visitors is both good business and legally required, especially considering that as much as 25% of the population lives with a disability. One of the more time-consuming aspects of accomplishing website accessibility is PDF conversion. A large percentage of PDF files are not accessible to assistive technology users because their content is not digitally tagged. If you’ve got the time and manpower, you can purchase software to help you correctly tag PDFs yourself (Equidox has a fast and easy-to-use option!) to make them more accessible. Many organizations don’t have the time or manpower to invest in converting their own PDFs, so they may choose to outsource such projects. PDF conversion pricing can be a complex subject to parse.
It can be difficult to budget for a remediation project or know if you’re getting a good deal because most companies don’t publish their remediation prices. There is, however, a good reason for this. Conversion services can’t be evaluated as “apples to apples.” There is no one-button fix, and almost every company has a different way of remediating documents, so there are a number of variables to consider. Variations in software, manpower, and validation methods, combined with variations in the complexity of the documents themselves, mean that no two companies will have the same PDF conversion pricing.
What goes into pricing?
There are a number of different software programs remediators can use, some of which are more time consuming than others or require more human manipulation to correctly tag elements. The software used by the remediators to whom you’ve outsourced the project can contribute to the length of time it takes to complete the project, which in turn contributes to the price.
This one is by far the most important element of the remediation project. It’s easy to tag a few elements on a page and say the document is accessible, but if no one has verified the document has actually been remediated correctly the whole project is for naught. Validation can easily take longer than remediating the document in the first place, especially if it’s done correctly.
To save time and money, many companies use automated accessibility checkers which can whip through a website and catch coding issues that can cause documents to be inaccessible. However, those checkers can only catch 20%-30% of accessibility issues. Items such as context issues, correct reading order, and alternative text descriptions for images can’t be verified by any non-human checkers. It takes a real person using a screen reader while following along with the actual PDF to make sure what’s being read by the screen reader is presented in the same order and makes sense in the context of the PDF version.
Altho accessibility checkers will catch a number of accessibility errors, passing an automated accessibility checker has little bearing on whether a real human being can actually use the document. This can make the difference between whether or not that assistive technology user purchases your products or services, visits your physical location, or otherwise is able to benefit from the information you are trying to provide. Your entire website can be considered inaccessible if it includes inaccessible PDFs, which puts you at risk for web accessibility litigation through the ADA because the information is withheld from people with disabilities.
Projects that aren’t an emergency and can be completed piece-by-piece over time are often significantly less expensive to have remediated. Rushed projects often mean having to pull remediators off of other projects, bring in outside help, or require overtime to complete the project. All of those things add to the price.
Be sure to start your remediation project as soon as possible, and consider having a consultant evaluate your website to see exactly how many PDFs you have and make recommendations on how to prioritize their conversion. You may have a number of documents that are outdated and no longer relevant that can be removed from the website altogether, while other documents that are seldom used can be remediated last, or removed temporarily until they can be converted.
Different document elements can be more or less time consuming for remediators, which in turn can add to the price. Documents containing multi-level lists, complicated tables, and detailed infographics and charts can take time to correctly remediate.
Also, the more complicated the document, the higher the risk for error while remediating. Errors take time to identify, correct, and revalidate, adding cost to the process.
Documents that are created digitally, such as when a document is saved as a PDF (as opposed to scanned into a computer), and that have embedded text and fonts, are (with some exceptions) usually the easiest to remediate. PDFs with an intuitive, structured reading order and simple non-text elements such as single-level lists, small, uniform tables, and decorative graphics which are easy to understand and explain using text alternatives make a document lower in complexity.
Low Complexity documents can run anywhere from $2.50 – $15 per page, but again, you get what you pay for. Companies that charge dramatically less than others (like the $2.50 range) might not remediate accurately or completely or may not have had a real person validate them.
Mid-complexity documents include many non-text items, non-linear reading order (think of a busy page in a digital magazine) that requires human interpretation and understanding, nested lists, non-uniform tables, links, footnotes, or elements that require flattening or removal of some interactive element.
Medium complexity documents can run $4-$20 or more per page.
Hi-Complexity documents include those which were not created digitally but were instead scanned into the computer. Text is not embedded because the computer reads the document as an image, not a text document. This might include handwritten text and documents intended for printing and folding.
Scanned documents can be particularly challenging, as the contents must have Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tools used on them in order for the elements to be tagged. That can mean quite a lot of manual checking to ensure the content has been correctly OCR’d, all before any tagging can take place.
High-Complexity documents also include complicated non-text items such as multi-page tables, nested lists with four or more levels of nesting, infographics requiring long-form descriptions, or interactive elements.
Difficult documents with lots of nested lists, tables, charts, or other complicated elements can run $6- $30 or more per page.
Forms are by far the most difficult and time-consuming documents to remediate. For each form element, there are multiple tags required and a specific structure that must be created so that the form is both fillable and usable by a screen reader. Fillable forms include interactive documents and other interactive PDF elements such as buttons.
Forms are by far the most difficult. Be prepared to pay anywhere from $25-$50 per page or more, depending on the number of form fields.
You Get What You Pay For
Companies that advertise one flat (particularly low) price for PDF remediation are sometimes too good to be true. That can mean that instead of individually identifying and tagging each element on the document page, they’re just drawing one giant tag around everything on the page. A screen reader would have no idea that there’s a list, table, chart, or image, or may read a page containing columns straight across, which wouldn’t make any sense to the user. It could also include “artifacting” everything to hide the content from screen readers and automated checkers, but leaving a document completely unusable. Very low prices also mean that the company isn’t spending much time on the job, and are probably skimping on either the remediating or validating side of things. It’s a good idea to obtain samples of work and test them using actual screen readers to be sure the documents you are getting back actually still convey the information you wish to present, and don’t only “pass the checkers.”
How do I know if I’m getting a good value?
You’ll probably be asked to submit some sample documents so the remediating company can evaluate them using their own criteria just how complex the document may be.
Here are some important questions to ask in order to evaluate whether the PDF conversion pricing you’re quoted is a good deal:
- What software do you use?
- What is your turnaround time?
- How are my documents handled – how do I submit them and how are they returned?
- What is your pricing for low, medium, and high complexity? What about forms?
While you want a company that is responsive, a company that promises you documents within hours is probably not taking the time to properly remediate, let alone validate, your documents. This might meet your deadline, but if the documents received still aren’t accessible there’s no point in even starting the project.
- What is your validation process?
- What screen reading technology do you use to validate?
- What is the experience of your validators?
Remember, if it doesn’t include a real screen reader user ensuring the document is actually usable, automated checkers will only catch up to 20%-30% of accessibility errors. If the person doing the validation doesn’t have the correct experience using a screen reader, other errors will be missed as well.
- Be sure to check the work on any samples you send. You need to know you are getting what you pay for: an accessible, usable document.
Exceptions and special circumstances
You may be able to skip the process of requesting a quote for the PDF conversion pricing. If you are part of a government agency or nonprofit, you may be entitled to special pricing in the form of a discount or pre-negotiated price, especially if the company has a GSA schedule contract and you’re part of a government entity. It’s always worth asking if there are discounts offered for your particular industry or sector.
If you have a large number of documents that need to be remediated, ask if the company offers a bulk discount.
If you have one standard document that gets published regularly, such as a bank statement or bill, ask about batch processing, where a template is built to your document specifications. While documents will still need to be validated, as long as the document fits the exclusively designed template, the remediation process can be largely automated, cutting down on the time and cost of the project.
Choose Your Accessibility Partner Carefully
Outsourcing PDF tagging and remediation can save your company time and ensure the project is done correctly if you use a company that is reliable, careful, and dedicated to usability. Ask questions to determine how thoroughly your documents will be remediated and validated so you don’t end up with files that are just as inaccessible as when you started. Selecting the cheapest option for a project like document remediation, which requires specialized knowledge, can leave you with documents that are unusable and need to be remediated all over again. Know the complexity of your documents so you can choose an option that offers complete remediation and thorough, manual validation balanced with reasonable pricing.
To see how Equidox measures up for PDF conversion pricing and services, visit our professional PDF Conversion page.