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PDF Remediation Project

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In 2016, Boise State launched a Web Accessibility Initiative to address the accessibility gaps on our public facing web content. In the years since, the Office of Information Technology, Office of Communications and Marketing, and our entire web community have made great strides as a university toward our goals, including:

  • Creating an IT accessibility policy (Policy 8140)
  • Hiring new support staff
  • Forming a university IT accessibility committee
  • Developing and supporting a new university web theme with accessibility in mind
  • Creating new training opportunities
  • Providing support and developing resources for content creators
  • Performing accessibility reviews on software purchases
  • Increasing campus awareness about accessibility

Despite all our efforts and progress, we know that accessibility is a journey and not a destination. There’s always room to improve, grow, and innovate. On this next phase of our accessibility journey we are tackling documents.

This article serves as an outline for our proposed project to address inaccessible PDFs published on Boise State public facing websites. This is a living project and will be updated and adjusted according to the needs of our web users and campus community.

Keep track of progress by accessing the PDF Remediation Project – OIT Google document. This document has been reviewed for accessibility and a summary of the document as it appears today is provided on this page.

Thank you for all you do to make Boise State a more accessible place!

Introduction/Overview of Project

PDF documents present several challenges for accessibility. Remediating PDF documents after the design process can be both time consuming and costly to achieve full accessibility compliance with university policies and federal law. If not created with accessibility in mind, PDFs can be impossible for users with assistive technology to fully access the information in a logical manner. For users with mobile devices, a PDF presents a poor reading experience on a small screen.

For the purposes of this document, only PDF documents published on Boise State public websites are referenced, but inaccessible documents sent through other means such as email, electronic newsletter services, on Google Sites, and as instructional materials in the classroom also pose significant challenges for accessibility and policy compliance.

6,571 Documents Linked in WordPress

As of December 12, 2021 there were 4,372 PDF documents published on Boise State WordPress sites. Of these documents, only 342 have an accessible HTML alternative available while a total of 6 have been fully remediated by the Web Accessibility Team to verify compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA standards.

Additionally, there are 2,199 Google Drive and Google Doc resources linked on Boise State WordPress sites. Our web accessibility auditor cannot check these resources for accessibility compliance. Therefore, each instance requires a manual review and the Office of Information Technology lacks the resource bandwidth for such a review.

This volume of inaccessible documents represents a significant liability for the university in our public facing web content and violates several university policies, including:

OIT Efforts Towards Accessible Documents

The Office of Information Technology has made concerted efforts over the last five years to address the thousands of inaccessible documents published on the Boise State website.

Our efforts include:

  • Educating the campus community about PDF accessibility
  • Promoting the use of HTML over PDF content
  • Reviewing and remediating documents
  • Hosting trainings and workshops
  • Developing accessible templates
  • Creating on-demand guides and resources
  • Sharing resources with departments

Additionally, in October 2021, we informed the web community that we would start removing newly uploaded PDFs from sites if they do not meet accessibility compliance. Despite our best efforts, we are unable to stem the flow of inaccessible documents uploaded to our Boise State WordPress sites.

Project Objective

Significantly reduce the number of inaccessible PDFs published or linked to on Boise State’s websites, while balancing the complex needs of our campus partners, their audiences, and all the constraints with available resources to be compliant with university policy and the law, reduce the risk of liability, and improve user access to information.

Proposed Solution

Develop processes and procedures, categorize, and define what we do, how we do it, and why it’s important. To achieve these solutions we propose the following four goals:

  1. Improve Training – Educate the campus community on exact details so they can plan their work accordingly
  2. Increase Awareness – Decrease misinformation, disputes, or arguments regarding accessibility
  3. Develop Guidance and Standards – Provide a clear framework for both content creators and reviewers on compliance requirements
  4. Develop and Communicate Processes – Increase our ability to stem the flow of new inaccessible PDFs while simultaneously remediating legacy PDFs

Goal 1: Improve Training

  • Note: Details in progress

Improve Trainings – Continue to educate the campus community on exact details for creating and maintaining content for the web so they can plan their work accordingly

  • Market Level 1 Badge Course (Intro to Web Accessibility)
  • Deploy Level 2 Badge Course (Accessible Documents, Images, and Media)
  • Develop and Finalize Level 3 and 4 Badge Courses (User Experience, Universal Design, and Access Technology)
  • Develop new trainings to help prioritize document remediation
  • Investigate International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) membership for the university

Goal 2: Increase Awareness

  • Note: Details in progress

Increase Awareness – Decrease the number of disputes or arguments regarding accessibility

  • Establish a clear escalation path, internally and externally for students/staff/faculty and public
  • Increase adoption and buy-in from leadership at all levels of the university
  • Advocate for the promotion of accessibility in the state of the university address
  • Tie accessibility to the strategic plan – use the language of the strategic plan – make the case that you can’t do parts of the strategic plan without accessibility with examples of why
  • Strengthen standards of conduct/statement of shared values – explicitly state accessibility and promote it to campus community
  • Communicate training opportunities – what’s mandatory, optional, on-going
  • Use Boise State Beacon to establish regular and ongoing communication about web accessibility standards, training opportunities, and remediation needs

Goal 3: Develop Guidance and Standards

  • Note: Details in progress

Guidance and Standards – Provide a clear framework for both content creators and reviewers on compliance requirements and processes

  • Create workflow tools in Microsoft Word to help user create more accessible source content
  • Create Style Templates for Google Docs and Microsoft Word to promote consistency in document formatting
  • Communicate and share tools with web admins to use for their document creation process
  • Develop strong links between tools and resources for marketing, web standards, and accessibility
  • Develop guidance for how, what, and when requires Brand committee review and approval
  • Develop a single university style guide for all things Brand/Web/Publishing/Accessibility to promote a consistent set of expectations for creating, publishing, and monitoring content

Goal 4: Develop and Communicate Processes

To increase our ability to stem the flow of new inaccessible PDFs while simultaneously remediating legacy PDFs we propose the following criteria for reviewing, remediating, and removing PDFs currently published on the Boise State public facing websites. We’ve broken these criteria into two groups to address both new and legacy documents.

Criteria for reviewing new documents published on public facing websites on an ongoing basis

Each week, the OIT Web Accessibility Team will review newly published documents and determine if they fit into a path for review, remediation, or removal. We are defining new documents as documents published within the last six months. Using this criteria, as of March 2022 there are 431 documents to be reviewed in this category.

No Issues – Web Team Review Required

PDF documents that fall into the review path meet the following criteria:

  • Published within last 6 months
  • No issues (per accessibility scan)
  • Machine readable document
  • PDF Tags Present

Our internal process for completing this review is as follows:

  • Review for an HTML equivalent, if appropriate create one
  • Verify accessibility of document within Adobe/CommonLook
  • Add Remediated by Web Team and User Review Needed labels in Web Auditing Platform
  • Review for usability/compatibility with screen reader
  • Add any accommodation or accessibility statements to webpage to clarify how users access information
  • Add A11y Verified by Web Team label in Web Auditing Platform
  • Add label for Published (Year)
Current/Remediate

PDF documents that fall into the remediation path meet the following criteria:

  • Published within last 6 months
  • Machine readable
  • No PDF Tags
  • One or more issues
  • No HTML equivalent available

Our internal process for completing this remediation is as follows:

  • Option 1: If appropriate and timely, remediate content to meet accessibility requirements by either making the document accessible in Adobe/CommonLook and/or creating an accessible HTML alternative first, then notify the document creator about changes made and provide guidance on how they can avoid inaccessible PDF content in future.
  • Option 2: If unable to remediate within the time or resources available to the Web Accessibility Team, we’ll contact the document creator directly about the issue and include options for making content accessible. Document creators will have one week to respond to or work with the Web Accessibility Team to develop a plan for remediation. If the document is not remediated fully within a reasonable timeframe, as agreed upon in the remediation plan, or if the document creator fails to respond within a week, the document will be removed from the website until it is made accessible.
Current/Remove

PDF documents that fall into the remove path meet the following criteria:

  • Published within last 6 months
  • Not Machine Readable
  • No PDF Tags
  • One or more issues
  • No HTML equivalent available

Our internal process for completing this removal is as follows:

  • OIT’s Web Accessibility Analyst reviews the document to determine the context and purpose of the information and sends recommendation for removal to Director of University Web Strategy
  • Director of University Web Strategy reviews approves removal of document from the web
  • Document creator is notified that the document was removed from the web for violation of University Policy 8140 and is given guidance for updating the content in an accessible format

Criteria for reviewing legacy documents published on public facing websites on an ongoing basis

Excluding the 431 current documents, there remain an additional 3,936 PDF documents published on the Boise State website, with 85% published more than 12 months ago.

We lack the resources to fully review or remediate all of these documents and contracting with a remediation vendor may also be cost prohibitive. Most vendors charge a minimum of $5 per page for remediation services. Assuming each of the 3,936 documents contain only one page, costs could easily reach $20,000 but the real costs are likely significantly higher.

For this reason, we recommend removing the vast majority of our old PDF documents unless they meet the following criteria:

  • Required by law
  • Required for accreditation
  • Required to support the university’s mission or operations
  • Granted an exception based on it’s purpose

All efforts will be made to make the legacy content that meets this criteria accessible, or we will publish an accommodation path to allow users to request alternative formats. We propose addressing this group of documents in three phases.

Phase 1: 2018 or older

For the first phase, the Web Accessibility Team will identify which documents were published in 2018 or older.

After these documents are identified, all web administrators will be asked to review and determine if their documents meet the criteria to remain published. If not, then they will remove the documents from the website within one month of notification.

All documents in this category that remain on the site after the one-month period will be removed by the Web Accessibility Team with the approval of the Director of Web Strategy per authority of University Policy 8140.

Phase 2: 2019-2021

For the second phase, the Web Accessibility Team will identify which documents were published between 2019 and 2021.

After these documents are identified, all web administrators will be asked to review and determine if their documents meet the criteria to remain published. If not, then they will remove the documents from the website within one month of notification.

All documents in this category that remain on the site after the one-month period will be removed by the Web Accessibility Team with the approval of the Director of Web Strategy per authority of University Policy 8140.

Phase 3: Current year

Phase three is the maintenance phase where all documents are reviewed periodically and removed unless they meet the established criteria for remaining published on the web.

Timelines for entering phase three are influenced by how long it takes to complete phases one and two. After work to remove all 2021 and older legacy documents is complete, we will be in a better position to recommend a review timeline and procedure.

Contact Us

Contact us for questions and additional information at oitaccessibility@boisestate.edu.