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Q and A From Webinar on How to Make PDFs Accessible on School Websites

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Posted by Jason Morgan
Nov 28, 2017 5:42:56 PM

During our recent Campus Suite Academy webinar How to Make your School PDF Documents Accessible and ADA Compliant, (see webinar video here), we had many questions we didn’t have time to answer live. Following are those questions and answers from the  webinar.

In addition to reviewing the original webinar video and this overview article on making PDFs accessible, I encourage you to visit the School Website Accessibility Education Center. Also, let me know if you have any questions of your own about how to make your school website PDFs accessible.


If we can't make a document compliant, do we have to take it down?

According to the WCAG guidelines, you are required to take every effort to make your website and website documents as accessible as possible. Converting the content to a web page in an accessible format is an option, as is providing an ‘alternative way’ (e.g., phone call, dedicated email address for a accessibility coordinator) for someone to access the the information.


Can this be done as you create the PDF from a Word doc?

Many colleges, working with WebAIM’s PDF initiatives, have been converting Word docs to PDFs for years. While creating tags in the authoring application generally provides better results than adding tags in Acrobat, as our friends at WebAIM say themselves, and I quote, “Creating accessible web content with Word is NOT a straightforward process.”  See what they say here.


How do you ensure Google docs are compliant?

Many educators use Google, so I know Google is making accessibility a priority. Check out their Google support page for how to make Google docs accessible.


How do Acrobat and accessibility work with Excel documents?

Creating tags in the authoring application generally provides better results than adding tags in Acrobat. Check out the Microsoft support site on making Excel spreadsheets accessible. Regardless, Excel = tables and tables are not the friendliest ADA companions. Tables require additional tagging that includes things like specifying column headers. No matter the authoring tool, you’ll need to evaluate tables and handle them while reviewing accessibility.


Are the tools to make PDFs accessible available on the basic, free Acrobat Reader?

No. Acrobat is also a full program. The reader is distributed by Adobe to make it so anyone can open a PDF document. The Acrobat program has the “distiller” which is used to print to from any program to create the distributable PDF document.


When you're referring to H1, H2, etc. are you simply referring to order of headers?

Yes, we refer to the process of heading order as page semantics. To a screen reader, H1 suggests the main (most important) heading on a page. H2 would be secondary and, of course, H3 would have less significant header info. In a document, avoid skipping headers. For example, don’t use H1 at the top, and then use H3 next. You should use the H2 heading…and only use H3 if a sub-heading is needed beyond that.


Do you have a document that will walk us through what you demonstrated?

Here’s a video of the original Campus Suite webinar: How to Make Website Documents and PDFs ADA-Compliant, and the Campus Suite help desk has another on video on optimizing PDFs here.


Is there somewhere we could find a sample Website Accessibility Policy?

Campus Suite has put together a free website accessibility policy template that’s easy to use. You simply fill in the blanks and in a matter of minutes you can have a customized policy that shows your entire school community you are addressing the website needs of people with disabilities.


Are we accountable for non-accessible PDFs hosted on other sites but linked to our site?

That’s a good question. Our best answer is no… since you would not have any control (let alone knowledge) that someone is linking back to your site. The WCAG spec is still maturing, and we’ll have to watch that. We’ll be certain to share information as it becomes available.


Is it expected that teachers are supposed to correct these errors? This seems like a very technically involved process.

Unfortunately, yes. Hence the reason we continually research and publish our knowledge on our support site. Again, you and your teachers should really scrutinize whether or not something should be a PDF versus a web page. If it must be a PDF, now is the opportunity to come up with a recommended process for your school to create accessible PDF’s or ones that can be reviewed and corrected with minimal effort after being published through Acrobat.

Is the ‘Action Wizard’ in Adobe X Pro as thorough as Acrobat Pro DC when it comes to creating accessible PDFs?  

We’re not familiar with using Adobe X or XI, for we use Acrobat Pro DC (document cloud service). You might check with Adobe directly or one of the many users familiar with Action Wizard.

Are links in a PDF labeled as just regular text in the reading order?

We suggest selecting the link, and then tagging it as such… resulting in a <link> tag surrounding the link. Be sure to use meaningful, semantically driven text and NOT the actual URL. For more info, check out these Section 508 Support Office pointers from the Department of Veterans Affairs on creating accessible PDFs with Acrobat Pro.

Is there a cheaper (although less robust I realize) way to check PDFs?

One open source tool you can use is the PAVE scanner.


When the checker is looking for a title, does that mean the document name isn't sufficient?

If by document name, you mean the filename, then yes, that is not adequate. You should serve a proper document title in each PDF. Acrobat will check this and it’s one of the most common issues – and easy to fix.


Does the PDF need to be accessible if you have the document on the site as a web page?

Because the PDF is still there to be seen and dealt with by the screen reader, yes. It’s a good question though. We still see PDF’s that are impossible to make accessible just due to their complexity, hence the reason for they’re PDFs in the first place, right? One might argue that the PDF is simply there to open and print out. This is something that we do not have the answer to… and it’s on our list to investigate with other ADA-compliance experts. However, to be compliant with the OCR, you should remove the non-accessible PDF from your website.


Do you have to have DC or will the standard Adobe Acrobat Pro provide the full accessibility flagging and checking?

Acrobat Pro DC (document cloud services) is the most comprehensive, with a long list of tools not available on Acrobat Pro. For a complete run-down of the differences, check this Acrobat Pro comparison chart. Again. Adobe Reader does not make PDF files accessible, but you can export plain text versions of PDFs using Adobe Reader.


If other staff such as teachers have their own webpages for their classroom, is the district responsible for that separate page?

Any teacher site or staff site affiliated with the district site should be accessible. Many CMS providers such as Campus Suite enable teachers and staffers to quickly create their own sites within the same ADA-compliant framework.


Is it better or easier to have the original document, (e.g., original Word Document) to correct the accessibility requirements?

The jury is still out on that. Of course garbage-in = garbage-out always applies, but it really depends on the complexity of the original document. The Acrobat distiller will do its best to make a compliant PDF, but there will be edge cases that need to be reviewed and fixed no matter what. The tools are still maturing here, and we suspect that there will be a larger focus both at Adobe, and third-party vendors providing accessible PDF solutions.


Do you know if the accessibility scan and fix features are available using Adobe Acrobat Pro X?  Or is this specific to DC?

It’s our understanding they are there in Acrobat Pro X, but different. We have not used Acrobat Pro X or XI ourselves. See more here at the Adobe Accessibility Guide.


Can you show us how to create a form on which the user can fill out fields? I've done some, but could probably add the functionality in an easier way.

We are not recommending you try to create form functionality within PDF’s as our experience has seen it as clunky at best. (Campus Suite provides its customers a form-building tool that creates ADA compliant forms that can be embedded on web pages.)


Regarding tables that have merged cells, is it appropriate to ADD tags in order to have the proper number of cells per row?

The tool you use to review PDF accessibility should flag this accordingly for your review to fix. It’s true that each column must have a header cell at the top. Without going in and looking at the effect of a merged-cell, I can only guess at the result. What you are describing is two columns that may have a merged header cell at the top. If it’s properly tagged as a header cell (TH), then it may work. We have to let the checker say.


How are we supposed to update ALL of our PDFs when we have thousands of them?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but imagine rebuilding Rome, right? If you can come up with some sort of priority system (i.e., the most popular or widely used PDFs) and begin chipping away, that might be the best course of action. We know this is a mountainous task for schools, and it’s why we are working to create a valuable resource on our support site. Many of our customers have deemed it a major “spring-cleaning” opportunity and are removing everything. Then, they are adding documents back onto the website as they are needed. You may find that there are many PDF’s that just didn’t need to be PDF’s in the first place.

What is the urgency to improving the website if we are partially compliant?

As long as you have a plan in place to continue to make your website and its documents accessible, you are doing the right thing for your school community. The Office for Civil Rights, the agency bringing complaints against schools and districts, will likely allow you to execute a clearly-defined plan.



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Posted by Jason Morgan

Jason Morgan is co-founder and chief product officer for Campus Suite. He and his staff have guided thousands of school administrators through the process of building and launching accessible websites that engage their school communities.

Topics: Website accessibility Campus Suite news School Districts

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This blog and other Campus Suite Academy resources are part of our commitment to professional development for school communicators. Please join our forum for sharing the latest technology and communication trends to help schools better engage and improve education outcomes.


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