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Shannon Kelly

  PDF Accessibility


Accessible PDF: Enterprise Versus Desktop Accessibility Requirements

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Shannon Kelly delves into the difference between PDFs created at the desktop level versus the enterprise level, and how to ensure accessibility for each.

PDFs created at the desktop level will generally need to be tagged manually

We receive a lot of questions at Actuate about our PDF Accessibility Appliance, a solution designed to make PDF customer communications accessible to the blind and visually impaired community. Many of the customers who approach us want to know how our solution differs from others on the market and what types of documents are best suited for our solution. Actuate’s Accessibility Appliance is unlike other accessibility products as it is designed for PDFs created at the enterprise level. So what’s the difference between PDFs created at the desktop level versus the enterprise level? It’s a good question that I’m going to delve into here.

Image alongside: PDFs created at the desktop level will generally need to be tagged manually.

The Desktop Level:
PDFs created at the desktop level are done so by a person, generally using popular programs such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, etc. That’s what defines this level of PDF creation: individual people create the individual document. An example could be as simple as a newsletter created for delivery or web distribution to all customers, or may be as complicated as the thousands of program documents generated each year by Medicare/Medicaid insurance providers and found on their websites. Because Medicare is a federal program, there is a lot of documentation involved that needs to be changed annually as the legislation itself changes – even though there may be hundreds of thousands of documents, though, they’re all still unique and need to be created one at a time by a combination of individuals.

The Enterprise Level:
PDFs created at the enterprise level are generally personalized customer communications automatically generated by an application, typically within the IT department – each one is not individually created by a person. These types of documents include credit card and bank statements, telecommunications billing, tax notices, medical explanation of benefits, etc. What defines all of these is that there may be millions of personalized individual documents, but they’re all created from a single template. So, while each document contains individual personal data, they all look very similar in structure, and it’s not a single person – or even a group of people – who insert that data. Rather, it’s done automatically, using a document composition engine. A template is generally created one at a time by an individual or group of individuals, then the engine automatically pushes the data through that template to put out these documents at the scale and speed that’s required.

Accessibility Options:
When it comes to considering accessibility for documents, PDFs created at the desktop level will generally need to be tagged manually. This is the traditional path to accessibility and currently there isn’t technology available that addresses automation of these ad hoc documents in scale and with reliability – meaning not needing manual re-touch of the tag structure.

For documents created at the enterprise level, though, automated solutions like the Actuate Document Accessibility Appliance exist that do just that – automating the remediation of high volumes of PDFs able to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA and Section 508 standards without the need for manual tagging or tag re-touch. The Actuate Document Accessibility Appliance is designed for high-volumes of documents created by a document composition engine at the enterprise level and output as PDF.

The Accessibility Appliance allows for the creation of highly intelligent templates, again at the enterprise level, building in the accessibility rules for tagging that will get incorporated into the PDF post creation, i.e. automated remediation. This can happen in batches or in real time on demand, making them accessible to visually impaired customers and the screen reader technology they use to access, navigate, and fully consume digital documents.

In the case for these high volume generated documents, manual tagging is all but impossible. There are often millions, hundreds of millions or more of individual documents to consider, so the only way to manage accessibility without an automated solution is through an exception process. This process would require visually impaired customers to self-identify as disabled and deal with delayed delivery times while their document is remediated manually.

The exception process often doesn’t scale either due to the sheer volume, and forces companies to hire and train full time internal resources or hire expert vendors, often costing $5 to $35 per document page. The Actuate Document Accessibility Appliance helps get around that – allowing for all customers, with and without disabilities, to have access to fully accessible documents on demand, especially medical and financial communications equally at the same time.

If you still have any further questions, please leave them in the comments section below, or email:


Related Resources

Blog: The Intersection of Access and Ability | Read Robert Pearson's Article.

Publication: Developing e-Accessibility as a Professional Skill | Download Free PDF.