Ugly Truth: PDF Accessibility Services Don’t Meet 508 Document Compliance Requirements

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Here’s an ugly truth that nobody finds out until it’s too late:

The thousands of dollars you paid to a PDF accessibility service to remediate your complex documents most likely did not result in you getting a fully 508 compliant document back.

If the document is relatively short or simple (mostly words), you’re probably fine.

But the longer and more complex your document, the less likely it meets all of the 508 PDF accessibility requirements.

If you’ll click on the link above, refer to Section E: PDFs containing Tables and look at items E6 and E7:


Do data tables with 1 set of both column and row headers appropriately use scope to associate to data cells?


Do data tables with more than 1 set of column and/or row headers appropriately use id/headers to associate to data cells?

Having been hired as a consultant for a large PDF project and having received inquiries for multiple emergency turnarounds, I know large tables inside PDFs are especially problematic.

The main problems: 1) They require knowledgeable, skilled workers to remediate and 2) They take a long time to complete.

One table can literally take 1–2+ hours to make accessible.

When you consider that a single document can be 200 pages long, come with minimal tags, and contain dozens of tables, the simple task of remediating a handful of PDFs to be 508 compliant can become extremely burdensome and costly.

This is when you start to seek out the professionals, right?

You search Google for PDF 508 Compliance services and hire one for several thousands of dollars.

Here’s the catch:

I’ve tested a few of them and they don’t actually do full remediation.

From experience I know they don’t bother with associating the header cells with the data cells because I’ve asked them for sample documents.

They make your document accessible… up to a point but they don’t make documents completely 508 Compliant.

And, I’m sure if I were to test the services on other more difficult aspects of PDF remediation, they’d leave those out to.

Here’s the troubling aspect of all this:

How would you ever know?

You’re hiring these experts because you don’t really have a clue about PDF accessibility; You saw the 508 checklist and once things started getting confusing, you looked to outsource the work.

The only way you’ll ever find out is if an expert who is checking your document or someone who is using a screen reader points out that your document isn’t fully accessible.

And by then it’s too late.

You thought you were in the clear because you paid a service a few thousand dollars but the reality is they only made your document more accessible, not fully accessible per 508 standards.

There is software that can help make PDF accessibility faster but it’s expensive and it still doesn’t fully automate the process.

If you’re involved in your organization’s document compliance, this article should alarm you.

The process to make long or complex PDFs (PDFs with charts, tables, form fields, etc.) 508 compliant is a lengthy and costly one that requires skilled work.

If you have a lot of PDFs, it’s a sticky situation.

Caveat emptor.

If you need help making a PDF that conforms to PDF/UA standards and is Section 508 Compliant, feel free to email me at or fill out the client form.

Why don’t I talk about ADA compliance?

There are no current guidelines as to what constitutes an ADA compliant PDF but the key is that your document provides effective communication and is accessible to those with disabilities.

If your PDF is Section 508 compliant and meets PDF/UA standards, I don’t see any way on god’s green earth it wouldn’t be considered compliant with the ADA.