PDF Accessibility

We are aware of accessibility issues with PDF output, which is an industry-wide concern and a unique challenge of this document type. We have outlined below how we are approaching this issue at Watermark and some recommendations for ensuring all users at your institution have an accessible experience.

After conducting thorough investigations and consultation with industry experts, we have found that none of the generators we have explored produce satisfactory accessible PDF output natively. Some get closer than others, but PDFs are known to require laborious modification using Adobe DC testing and remediation tools to add tags and resolve all issues. This is an industry-wide issue and has resulted in final recommendations to always provide PDF alternatives or move away from PDFs. Numerous colleges, universities, and governments all recommend and provide steps for manual remediation.
Given the challenges and lack of technological solutions outside of Adobe DCs manual abilities to add accessibility tags, Watermark will not move forward with additional research and development into PDF generators. Our focus will be on ensuring that there is always an accessible on-screen presentation of the data and/or an accessible output option. For displaying data in visually appealing ways outside of an application, PDFs may be offered supplementary and/or alternative accessible output options may be made available.

In light of this, we recommend the following approaches as steps towards ensuring an accessible experience for users:

  • Providing Accessible PDFs upon Request: You can provide accessible PDFs upon request to specific users when requested by marking up the document using Adobe DC. Instructions are found on the Section 508 website. If you require assistance in creating batches of these for users who need them, our professional services team is available to help upon request with adequate notice.
  • Alternative Output Options: Where available, we encourage the use of alternative output formats such as on-screen HTML or Word.
    • In Faculty Success, CVs can be downloaded as RTF files (most commonly opened by Microsoft Word). We do recommend working with us to check these alternative formats for any accessibility issues since CVs are often custom created. Changes to Full-Service reports may be requested, as needed, to the headings and other structures to enhance accessibility of the documents.
      • For Microsoft Word, the accessibility check features are only available on specific versions. Our custom reports are not natively opened as one of these versions. In order to have the document receive an accessibility check, it must be converted to the most recent DOCX version. Once this is done, the accessibility tools in Word are available, and a report can be reviewed by the accessibility tools within Word.
    • While alternate formats are not currently available for the integration with RPT, file upload fields can be included to attach a modified PDF or alternate format for reviews when needed.
  • Given the prevalence of PDF output, not just from Watermark systems, we also recommend providing resources to your user community about PDF accessibility proactively in case they need information about how to markup a file or obtain an accessible alternative.

Please Submit a Request should you need assistance.

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