All documents should be tested before publication. They must comply with WCAG 2.1 and, in the case of PDFs, with PDF/UA (PDF/Universal Accessibility, or ISO 14289).
Since automated testing can only detect 10 to 40% of accessibility issues, we should perform manual testing according to the methods we explained elsewhere on this site:
As for automated testing, many authoring tools have built-in accessibility testing features. These features can help catch some accessibility issues and it is a good idea to use them as part of your workflow before publishing or exporting documents.
Acrobat Pro has a suite of accessibility tools that can be used to find and fix issues. To perform automated testing on a PDF, open the file and go to View > Tools > Accessibility. Choose “Full Check” to run the test and generate a report of the findings.
There are many other automated PDF accessibility testers; some are online services and some are downloadable apps. We have listed a few further down under Resources.
Please remember that automated tests have limitations; getting a passing score does not guarantee full compliance with accessibility standards, and manual testing is still necessary.
Testing Microsoft Office files
You can test the accessibility of certain Microsoft Office files by using the built-in Accessibility Checker. This tool is included with Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, and PowerPoint (for Windows, Mac, and the cloud), as well as with Visio (for Windows).
To run the Accessibility Checker, go to Review > Check Accessibility. After the check is done, you’ll get a list of Errors, Warnings, and Tips; you can then click on each issue to learn why it needs to be fixed, and how to do it. You can find out more about the rules for the Accessibility Checker on the Office Support site.
In Windows, you can also select the “Keep accessibility checker running while I work” checkbox so that you get notified about accessibility issues in real-time while editing your document.
As with other automated testing tools, the Accessibility Checker will not catch all errors, so it is important to perform manual testing.
Testing Google Drive files
Google Drive is lacking many accessibility features, including automated testing tools and the ability to export accessible PDFs. It does have an Accessibility menu, which you can enable by going to Tools > Accessibility settings, and then selecting “Turn on screen reader support”. After doing that, an item called “Accessibility” will be added at the end of the main menu.
Using the Accessibility menu, users can jump to specific elements in the document, including links, headings, lists, tables, graphics, etc. This feature can be used to check, for example, that headings are true headings and not just regular text made to look like a heading; this is, however, time-consuming, and not a meaningful substitute for real automated testing. As a result, the manual testing discussed earlier is absolutely essential when it comes to testing Google Drive documents.
Grackle Suite is a series of tools that can remediate some of the shortcomings of Google Drive, by providing automated testing tools and the ability to export accessible PDFs. It’s available as add-ons for Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides; there’s also a Grackle Suite Chrome extension that works with Google Docs and Google Sheets. The free version allows you to check for accessibility issues, but you need a subscription in order to get fixing tips and the ability to export PDFs.
Testing in OpenOffice and LibreOffice
OpenOffice and LibreOffice don’t have automated testing tools. AccessODF is an open-source extension for LibreOffice Writer and OpenOffice Writer, developed to allow users to evaluate and repair accessibility issues in documents, including Open Document Format (ODF), Microsoft DOC, Microsoft DOCX and Office Open XML files. Unfortunately, AcessODF was released in beta in 2012 and has not been maintained since, so it can’t be guaranteed to continue working properly as other technologies advance.
AccessODF can check for:
- Insufficient color contrast
- Missing text alternatives for images and other objects
- Main document language and language changes inside the document
- Compatibility of images with DAISY, the de-facto standard for digital audiobooks
Testing PDF documents:
- Create and verify PDF accessibility (Acrobat Pro) by Adobe
- PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC 3) by Access For All
- PDF Validator by CommonLook
- Tingtun Checker by the EIII Project
- PAVE by the ICT-Accessibility Lab
Testing other formats:
- Improve accessibility with the Accessibility Checker by Microsoft Office Support
- G Suite user guide to accessibility by Google
- Grackle Docs add-on on G Suite Marketplace
- Grackle Sheets add-on on G Suite Marketplace
- Grackle Slides add-on on G Suite Marketplace
- Grackle Docs Chrome extension on Chrome web store
- AccessODF extension for testing LibreOffice and OpenOffice Writer documents at Sourceforge