Comment on “How to find the right PDF remediation firm”

27th May 2019 | by Ted Page

The quality of PDF accessibility work an urgent issue

In a recent article entitled How to find the right PDF remediation firm, CommonLook’s Dave Herr notes a recent surge in demand for PDF accessibility remediation work. In doing so, he also makes a couple of important related points, namely:

  • The skill levels of some vendors of PDF accessibility remediation services are limited at best
  • Clients often do not have the skills or knowledge to vet vendors, nor to assess the quality of any PDF accessibility work subsequently undertaken

On the first of these points he is, frankly, putting it mildly. Truth be told, some of the work being sold to clients as accessible PDF is shockingly poor—standards of workmanship that would not be tolerated for 5 minutes in the HTML world. The sad truth is that some vendors are simply trading on the fact that many clients don’t have the expertise to evaluate their work effectively.

Conflating the concepts of PDF accessibility and standards compliance

Whilst I agree with much of what the article says, I do take issue with it on one point that is central to this topic. My objection is simply that, in setting out its solutions to these problems,  the article conflates the concepts of PDF accessibility and standards compliance, treating them as if they were interchangeable terms. They are not.

A PDF can, of course, be both accessible and standards compliant. But a PDF can also be standards compliant and at the same time in need of significant further work to make it accessible. The reverse is also true: you can have an accessible PDF that would need significant further work to make it standards compliant. And, in some cases, the two can even be mutually exclusive.

Examples

I have written extensively on this topic elsewhere and so will not labour these points again here. However, please see the related links section of this page for a selection of examples.

Non-expert testing

As Dave Herr also rightly points out, PDF remediation requires the right tools, training and attention to detail. Our Acrobat training course includes simple procedures and techniques designed to enable non-experts to check PDFs both against standards and with multiple assistive technologies (not just screen readers). Both are essential in order to ensure that PDFs are fully accessible.

Conclusion

The recent significant increase in demand for PDF accessibility remediation services is very much to be welcomed. However, there is currently a serious and widespread issue with quality that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. This is so, particularly if the requirements of the EU Accessibility Directive are to be met, as they must be, by September 2020.