PDF Remediation: Where Do I Start?

Woman working at a computer having a positive user experience with accessible PDFS.

When you begin to address your inaccessible PDF documents, it can be tough to know where to start, especially when each document is so different. Equidox remediators have developed some techniques and workflows for evaluating and prioritizing elements of documents before even beginning remediation.  Using these suggestions along with techniques within Equidox PDF remediation software can facilitate a quick and efficient remediation process.

Pre-flight Observations 

There are a number of things to consider before you even begin remediating PDFs. Evaluating the scope of your remediation project can help you determine how to break up the work and the best way to approach it. 

First things first

How many pages are there? How complex is the content? If you are a novice remediator, a complex document will take a bit longer and may require some assistance from someone with more experience. Even pros may require a bit more time to complete a  complex document. It’s useful to have an idea of the timeframe required to complete these documents. 

Formatting and existing tags

Is the design and/or formatting consistent throughout the document? If so, this can mean you are able to learn while remediating what to expect on each page, and your workflow will be faster.

 Is there an existing tag structure? If the existing tag structure is usable, that will save some time remediating the entire document. Even without an existing tag tree, the Equidox Zone Detector can add tags for you to quickly edit as necessary. If the entire document features a consistent design, you can take advantage of the Headings template feature.  

OCR and form fields

If your document requires Optical Character Recognition (OCR), this can add some time because you need to check the accuracy of the OCR.  If there are form fields, you will need to add tooltips.  Complex forms can be time-consuming, although Equidox software has significantly simplified adding tooltips to forms and allows you to view the form showing both labels and tooltips, in the Form Preview. 

Images and alt text

Are there images? How many? Are they informative or decorative? Equidox’s image pane allows you to add hide/artifact decorative images all in one place quickly and efficiently.  It also allows you to add alt text for all images in one place as well.  This is great if a subject matter expert is required to help fill in alt text (for example, if the document contains highly technical diagrams, infographics, or charts and graphs). You can also add alt text directly on individual pages, which is useful if you require context from the content on the page to determine the correct alt text. 

Collaboration ideas – how to work together

Equidox allows for multiple remediators to work on the same document simultaneously.  This means that tight deadlines can be met with many hands contributing to the work. Here are a few ways this can work:

Divide and conquer

Often the Equidox remediation team will divide up pages amongst several remediators, having each person do 100 pages of a 1000 page document, for example.  Or each person can be assigned a chapter of a textbook.  Or one person can set all the zones on a page and another can go through and set all the headings while the first person works on lists, tables, and other elements.  

Subject matter experts (SMEs)

Having a subject matter expert available to write the alt text on complex images can save a lot of time.  Equidox allows a user to do this in the Image Tab without even having to look at each individual page,  makes for a very efficient workflow. 

Using validation tool and page notes

Remediators can mark pages as done using the “mark page as validated” checkmark on each page.  That way, when you and others are scrolling through the various pages, you can see which are completed. If you are using a workflow where pages with more complex elements are skipped, this very visible checkmark can remind you which pages need to be revisited once the bulk of the remediation is complete. Page notes allow remediators to add information that might need to be shared with others.  Items such as “issue with table on this page” or “Need SME to fill in alt text on this diagram” or “URL here is incorrect” can be posted and reviewed by other users and administrators. 

Eliminating Repetition

Often documents have similar formatting throughout, and there are a number of elements that can be programmatically applied to the entire document.  These include the Zone Detector settings, reading order settings, heading templates, and the “ignore” feature. 

Zone Detector 

The Zone Detector can apply the same settings throughout a document. If your document has consistent formatting, it makes sense to use the Zone Detector to set the first page to the most correct sensitivity level, and then apply it to the entire document. Adjustments will be necessary on some pages, but you will have a simplified starting place on each page. 

Reading Order

Using Reading Order settings, you can set your document to read all elements left-to-right, top-to-bottom, or all pages as 2-column, as appropriate.  This will save a lot of clicks if you have a lengthy document.

Heading Templates

You can also indicate that all text in a document with specific formatting is, for example, a Heading Level 2. Any outliers can be corrected on individual pages. 

Ignore Feature

You can use the “Ignore” feature to bulk artifact repetitive and redundant elements like recurring text in headers and footers. You can do the same for page numbers (these usually don’t require tagging because assistive technology will announce the page numbers from digital information within the document).

Keeping a rhythm and finding your pace

Once you begin remediating a document, especially a large document, you’ll start to notice similarities in formatting and structure and develop an understanding of what to expect on each new page. 

Within a given document, often similar layouts and designs across pages use the same remediation techniques.  It’s often useful to skip “outlier” pages that are more complex and revisit them at the end of the process.  The “Mark Page as Validated” feature on the Page Detail will allow you to quickly find the skipped pages.  

Check your work – validating as you go

Equidox allows you to check your work as you proceed.  Using the HTML preview means you can confirm that you’ve accurately set the heading structure and reading order, test link URLs, and view list and table structure.  You can even run third-party accessibility checkers on the HTML preview to test your accuracy. 

When you export your remediated PDF, Equidox provides output warnings that pick up machine-detectable errors like missing alt text, illogical heading structure, and invalid merges of text, lists, and tables. The History Tab will allow you to find the page for each of these output errors and correct them. 

You will still need to validate your remediation manually using a screen reader, but many errors can be avoided and corrected within Equidox software using these tools. 

Refining your workflow

As you gain experience remediating, you will develop a process that is most efficient for you and your team.  Your remediation workflow will evolve and refine the way in which you approach each document to make it accessible. 

Want to learn more about how to approach the PDF remediation process? Check out the full webinar: Document Remediation – Where do I start? Designing and Refining a Workflow




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Tammy Albee

Tammy Albee | Director of Marketing | Equidox Tammy joined Equidox after four years of experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."