Online tool to check and fix PDF accessibility
While not perfect, the free online tool PAVE (https://pave-pdf.org) demonstrates how this process could be lightyears more user-friendly than it is currently – in Acrobat, and other available tools.
It automates as many of the steps as possible, leads the user through the remaining steps that need fixing manually, and leaves out everything else.
Side menu tabs:
- Tasks (main window)
- The "Reading Order", "Tags", and "Structure" menus from Acrobat have been simplified to a single "Reading Order" tab.
The workflow could be:
- Upload file (or send direct from InDesign or Word)
- Select "Make Accessible" from tools, or automatically prompt on upload (more below).
- Checks and automatically fixes what it can.
- "Tasks" dashboard highlights number of issues fixed automatically in green, list expands on click.
- "Tasks" dashboard lists tasks needing manual fixing, highlighted red (e.g. doc title, language, untagged elements, reading order).
- Lists items needing manual verifying (e.g. colour contrast)
- Checked-off items turn green.
- "Download PDF" button is yellow until all issues are fixed.
- "Download PDF" pop-up warns about unfixed issues, and those that that have to be verified by a human.
- Untagged elements are highlighted with red overlays on a preview.
- Click a red overlay (or drag a box to group several elements) to open the side "Properties" menu.
- Set the tag from a single dropdown menu (or mark as "Ignored").
- In properties: Add Alt text, if applicable.
- In properties: Tag tables and lists visually, via a simple visual interface.
- Tagged elements are added to a list in the "Reading Order" tab.
Reading Order process:
- Open "Reading Order" tab.
- Filter by tag (e.g. H1, body, artifact...), or text search.
- Tags are arranged in a list, separated by page.
- Drag and drop list items to rearrange reading order.
- List items can be ticked, for bulk actions.
- Tags can be expanded to view their contents (child elements).
- Tags or child elements can be deleted, marked as "Ignore", or grouped under a new tag.
Additional features not available in PAVE example:
- Filter Reading Order list by "Ignored/Artifact" or separate tab (to find elements mistakenly marked as "Ignored").
- Toggle to highlight "Ignored/Artifact"elements, with its own colour (e.g. yellow).
- Ability to "Undo" adding tags and rearranging reading order.
NORMALISE ACCESSIBILITY: – check automatically on upload, with an unintrusive alert:
- "We found *** accessibility issues in this PDF. Would you like to fix them?"
- Options: "Yes" / "No, this is a print file" / "More information"
- If yes > opens tool
- If no > hides alert, and stops showing alerts for that file.
- If "More info" > displays something like: "Whether this PDF is distributed via your website, or within your business, these issues many limit your potential audience reach, and may expose you to to legal action, depending on local laws."
Also provide an option to turn the automatic checker on or off.
WHY IT IS NEEDED:
Accessibility is everyone's responsibility. In many countries, WCAG and PDF/UA compliance is a legal requirement.
There is a lack of tools that are free, easy to use, and widely-available on all platforms. I've been actively looking for a tool like PAVE for years, and have only recently come across it.
Adobe is an industry leader in content creation.
Acrobat's online document cloud is in a unique position to provide a fast and user-friendly way to make accessibility mainstream, and put a spotlight on the conversation.
Meanwhile, Acrobat Deskop's comprehensive accessibility tools can remain for experts and power-users, for inevitable edge cases.
Available third-party tools either:
- Hide in obscurity, found only by those that actively look for them;
- Remain locked behind prohibitively expensive subscription fees; or
- Require a steep learning curve to learn.
These are huge barriers to accessibility becoming an easy, normal and everyday part of creating digital documents.
Acrobat desktop has a powerful and comprehensive suite of accessibility tools. But even with the Accessibility wizard, Acrobat's accessibility tools are tedious to use, difficult and time-consuming to learn, and often unforgiving of mistakes.
Any steps not doable pre-emptively in InDesign or Word are intimidating and convoluted for beginners to fix.
- Many clients and stakeholders don't want to pay for the extra time accessibility steps currently take.
- Many businesses don't have the time or resources to teach Acrobat's accessibility tools to all their staff, pay subscriptions for expensive third-party tools, or hire external contractors.
- Many freelancers don't have time or resources either.
This learning curve dumps the burden for making everyone else's documents accessible, on the few staff and contractors that already understand its value – like designers, content creators, developers and accessibility experts. This is of course assuming we can convince management to invest in it at all – and not just dump it in the "too hard" pile.
Many more are completely unaware of the existence of accessible PDFs at all, let alone their importance.
For example – I have a university degree in Graphic Design, yet accessible PDFs were not mentioned once in three years of full-time study. I have worked in the design industry for over 10 years.
It was only through self-teaching html that I started learning about accessibility at all. How can I honestly call myself a specialist in communication, when I've been unknowingly ignoring a whole chunk of my target audiences for the last 8 years?
Mark Wahlsten commented
Raja: If that form is intended to be sent via the internet – an online form would be a far more sensical use of your time, (for multiple reasons).
1. You could recreate that PDF as an accessible online form – from scratch – in a fraction of the time it would take to make that 8-page PDF form ADA compliant.
2. PDF Forms are a nightmare to make and edit (in any software).
3. PDFs are a nightmare to make accessible (in any software).
I haven't even *tried* to make an accessible PDF Form (...for the above reasons, and because I don't hate myself enough).
Looking around, that doesn't appear likely to change.
- Adobe appears to be going all-in on making the Reader mobile app's "Liquid Mode" an (eventual) cure-all for the sea of innaccessable PDFs that already exist.
- Meanwhile, neither Acrobat's OR InDesign's accessibility tools have seen significant updates in *a very long time.*
Make of that what you will.
In the meantime, I'm not sure where we invest our time now.
I don't know what kind of resources you have access to in your role (or the scope of your requirements). But if the answer is "not much" – I believe Google Forms is designed to be accessible by default, and would be far easier to manage.
If your employer has the resources, I'd make the case for a software package that handles applications
If you've already tried to talk your employer out of using PDF forms (to no avail), I'm sorry but I'm afraid I can't fix your PDF for you.
I've sunk *solid years* of my life into *accessible PDFs alone* – and I feel barely any more confident than when I started.
I'm tired, I'm broke, I'm burned out. I have nothing left.
Adobe finished me off.
All I want to do now is make EPUBs in some open-source word processor.
All I have left to say is:
*Run, Raja. Run as far as you can.*
*This is the place where hope dies.*
I wish you the best.
Raja Mendadala commented
Could you please help me to fix this pdf for ADA issues!
This is really useful and comprehensive!