Avery Hymel

Top 4 Things to Look for in a PDF Accessibility Checker

In the world of PDF accessibility testing, there are more than a few options that can supposedly help you verify the compliance of your PDF. 

While various testers will boast claims of efficiency and ease of use, the reality is that there are specific mechanisms built into some of the more capable testers that you will want to make sure you’re utilizing. 

Regardless of which tester you use, it’s worth ensuring that they support some of these game-changing capabilities.

Specific Standard Choice

When checking the accessibility of PDFs, one of the most common shortcomings of some checkers is having general or more vague testing criteria. The challenge here is that not only do laws require accessibility against highly specific, individual standards, but remediators must be able to verify that they are checking against them.

For example, most of the healthcare industry in the United States strives for compliance with HHS, a standard based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, created specifically for the US Department of Health and Human Services. If your standard checker does not give you the explicit option to test against HHS, it is unlikely to verify some of the HHS-specific checkpoints you will need.

In short, when choosing an accessibility tester, ensure that it allows you to test against individual, up-to-date standards rather than just triggering a more general “accessibility check.”

Manual Verification Checkpoints

There are plenty of accessibility requirements that a machine, or a computer in this case, has the ability to test. These are verifications such as “is this happening?” or “is that not happening?” These are considered automatic checks, and most checkers will easily identify issues with these checkpoints as their triggers are pretty straightforward. 

What happens, however, when the checkpoints require something that a machine cannot verify? 

For example, Figure tags require Alternate text under every standard. Automatic verification can be done by nearly any checker that asks, “does this Figure tag have Alt text?” and the remediator will be quickly met with a “Passed” or “Failed” result. 

But what about the accuracy of that Alt text? 

If the image is of a palm tree and the Alt text says “jar of applesauce,” would this trigger a “Failed” result? 

Sadly, in most cases, it would not. 

If you are using a checker that does not account for the need and importance of manual verification, your inaccurate Alt text could slip through the cracks and result in a non-compliant PDF. 

In short, when choosing an accessibility tester, ensure that it requires manual verification of checkpoints that it (i.e., a machine) cannot adequately check on its own.

Metadata & Document Properties

Metadata and document properties such as title, language, and file name are critical to the compliance of a PDF document. The reality is that they aren’t “flashy,” so some PDF checkers don’t give them the attention they not only deserve but also require! 

The great news about metadata is that it can be adjusted at nearly any point in the document creation process. The source file can be given credentials that carry over through the PDF generation and remediation, or a remediator can adjust metadata in the final PDF form. 

This flexibility is excellent, but when choosing an accessibility tester, ensure it verifies the presence and accuracy of the document’s metadata and supporting document properties.

Accessible Report Generation

Lastly, the ability of PDF accessibility checkers to generate a compliance report should always be a top consideration when exploring options. Document design and the resulting remediation of that PDF document takes time, knowledge, and manual effort.

A compliance report is a critical output to keep track of any and all accessibility checkpoints that the document was tested against, and the report serves as a metric for a document’s accessibility.

Today, it is not uncommon for clients to require a compliance report with a created document to ensure that the file they receive meets the necessary thresholds of compliance and that the authors and remediators have the knowledge to deliver such a product.

Beyond that, in more straightforward terms, a compliance report supports the claim that a document is legally acceptable. Beyond generating a report, some checkers’ reports are accessible themselves, showing a devotion to creating accessible content.

To protect your content and the effort put toward making that content compliant, a checker’s ability to generate an accessible report should be another top consideration as you select your testing tool.

CommonLook PDF Validator is an excellent PDF accessibility checker that lets the user check against specific accessibility standards, provides manual verification checkpoints. In addition, it provides a certification report that lets the user know what accessibiity standards was the PDF tested against.

You can download CommonLook PDF Validator for free on this page.