[Athen] CommonLook PDF and CommonLook Office software

Brusnighan, Dean A. dabrus at purdue.edu
Tue Dec 17 11:30:16 PST 2013

Wow. What a wealth of information! Thanks Ken. This is valuable.


From: athen-list-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu [mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Ken Petri
Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 3:31 PM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network
Subject: Re: [Athen] CommonLook PDF and CommonLook Office software

There are very few other options in this space, but there are some (see last couple of paragraphs of this email). We have had a lot of difficulty with the Commonlook software license managers, but I think we have narrowed this down to issues with our networking set up -- in other words, it's not a problem with Commonlook, but with our own networking (I'm pretty sure....).

The software itself is quite good. Commonlook Office Pro is the way to go with that tool, as that edition has the ability to create accessible complex tables and it works with PowerPoint.
PDF, the plugin for Acrobat, has a learning curve. And what I mean by this is it is an expert tool. It is not enough to be able to simply run the plugin. The person doing the remediation must be aware of what makes a PDF accessible, what are the semantics of PDF tags, etc. in order to produce a truly accessible PDF. But compared to trying to edit tag structures in Acrobat -- well, there is no comparison because editing tags, creating artifacts, dealing with weird textruns, etc. is simply way too much work without CL PDF. It does a lot of clean up for you, automatically (of textruns, linebreaks, empty tags, etc) that is hugely time consuming to do manually.
CL PDF is expensive, though. I think a few copies and only for people who are working a lot with PDF would make sense -- library and university communications/marketing, etc. In our case, almost all of Student Life and University Marketing Communications are InDesign users, and if you're going to use InDesign to produce PDF you are going to need to do after the fact remediation. So CL PDF is a good investment for that group. You could learn the tool and do internal training. CL does provide training and it's good -- we did it here at OSU, funded by a grant -- but the training is expensive, also.

CL Office Pro is very simple to use. Much simpler than anything else that produces accessible results. You could teach a half-hour workshop to faculty on how to use it and you'd be good. It's really straight forward.
Note that CL Pro is supposed to be able to produce accessible PDF forms. I would say that this feature is not yet adequate. You have to use the activex controls, only, in Word to get CL to recognize form elements and then the visual display of the forms produced is not very good -- you'll need to go back in in Acrobat and adjust the visual look and feel. But for non-form PowerPoint and Word, CL Pro is a valuable tool.

I have been told by CL staff that CL products are moving toward PDF U/A compliance. I would press them on this. CL should be producing PDF U/A/Matterhorn Protocol compliant documents. The other thing that I always advise creators to do with producing PDF is make sure there is a good bookmarks structure, that the bookmarks panel is set to display when the PDF loads in Reader or Acrobat, and that the title of the document, not its file name, appears in the top of the reader window. These are all things that you currently have to do manually with CL products. You have to run CL Pro or PDF, to into Acrobat and then set up bookmarks and title to display, etc. I personally think that there should be options (on by default) in CL Pro and PDF to set these display characteristics for you -- and save the hassle of doing them manually. I know most faculty will likely forget to do those things. CL Pro should just do them for you.
On that score, there is a free (currently in beta) tool that produces really nice, almost fully PDF U/A compliant PDF from Word -- and it displays the title, sets the document language, and sets the bookmarks panel to open by default. It's called axesPDF for Word. Since it's in beta, there are parts of it that don't work yet (are turned off), but it does have the very very useful ability to map Word styles to table headings (and other structures), so when your PDF exports the one and two dimensional tables in it don't require any after the fact remediation. axesPDF also produces really clean tag structures. For example, the days of figures floating to the top of the tag tree are gone with axesPDF. Word content styled using blockquote and captions on figures are correctly tagged in the PDF tag structure. And extra empty paragraphs are stripped automatically.

It's available here: http://www.axespdf.com/. All of the videos and most of the text on the site (and some in the application itself) are in German.
axesPDF isn't wizard based like CL Pro and so it does require a bit more training. But as far as I can tell, it is doing just as good a job as CL Pro. Running a Word document through it and through CL Pro and then checking with the PAC 2 checker shows that axesPDF actually right now produces a PDF that is closer to PDF U/A compliance than is the PDF produced by CL Pro.
In addition to PAC 2 for checking PDF, have a look at callas' pdfGoHTML. That free Acrobat plugin makes good arguments for tagged PDF, since it can produce accessible HTML documents from the PDF tag structure on the fly. pdfGoHTML (and PAC 2) provide really nice visualizations of PDF tag structures, too.
Feel free to call if you want to talk about this in more detail or need me to clarify anything, Dean.


[The Ohio State University]
Ken Petri, Program Director
Web Accessibility Center, ADA Coordinator's Office and Office for Disability Services
102D Pomerene Hall | 1760 Neil Ave. Columbus, OH 43210
614-292-1760 Office | 614-218-1499 Mobile | 614-292-4190 Fax
petri.1 at osu.edu<mailto:petri.1 at osu.edu> wac.osu.edu<http://wac.osu.edu>

On Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 2:29 PM, Brusnighan, Dean A. <dabrus at purdue.edu<mailto:dabrus at purdue.edu>> wrote:
Hi All,

Several Purdue campuses are planning to evaluate CommonLook PDF and CommonLook Office software by NetCentric.

I have two questions:

1) have you had good or challenging experiences with either of these tools? Feel free to share offline if you prefer.
2) do you know of any alternatives to these tools? I have been asked to provide a list of alternatives to ensure due diligence.

As a reminder:
* CommonLook Office is used to save Microsoft Word and Powerpoint files as accessible PDF documents.
* CommonLook PDF is used to modify existing PDF documents to make them accessible.

Thanks in advance for sharing your insights!


Dean Brusnighan
Assistive Technology Specialist
Purdue University, Young Hall
155 S. Grant Street
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2108
Phone: 765-494-9082<tel:765-494-9082>
dabrus at purdue.edu<mailto:dabrus at purdue.edu>

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