CommonLook Office Quick Start Guide –
Welcome to CommonLook Office! This guide is designed to take the user step by step
through the process of using CommonLook Office and Microsoft PowerPoint to create
an accessible and compliant PDF. Along the way, we will address accessibility issues
in the presentation itself. Note: While the current version of CommonLook Office will
prepare documents to be Section 508 compliant, there are additional checkpoints in the
software to help the user approach conformance to HHS and WCAG standards as well.
Future versions of the CommonLook Office software will support conformance criteria
for HHS, WCAG 2.0, and PDF U/A.
Although this guide will show the user how to fix many accessibility issues in
PowerPoint presentations, it should not be taken as an all-inclusive guide for using
Microsoft PowerPoint. For more information, or to become more familiar with Microsoft
Office and/or CommonLook Office, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to
discuss the various training options.
In addition, please note that this guide assumes that CommonLook Office is properly
installed and activated on your computer. To obtain the software, please contact us at
email@example.com. For help with installation or activation, please contact
A note on converting PowerPoint to PDF
The objective of CommonLook Office for PowerPoint is to create an accessible and
compliant PDF. While changes made to the PowerPoint from within the CommonLook
Office interface are saved, and do make for a more accessible PowerPoint, the main
focus of this guide is to create accessible PDF from PowerPoint presentations.
An Important Distinction
Accessible and compliant are not interchangeable terms. In fact, a PDF document can
be Section 508 compliant and still not be very “user friendly” (accessible). For example,
according to Section 508, heading levels and lists are not required structural elements.
(Note that in HHS, WCAG 2.0, and PDF U/A, both heading levels and lists are
Consider this scenario: A screen reader can be set to scan through a document by
heading levels and then switched over to read the information under a particular
heading, similar to using bookmarks. Consequently, if a document is particularly long, a
person using a screen reader can skip over irrelevant content to more quickly get to the
important material. Without heading levels, the user is forced to listen to all of the
information presented, before getting to the content that he or she wants to hear.
In addition, if lists are not properly identified in the PDF document, individuals using
screen readers will not get the same structural information (for example, a list of five
items being identified) as will someone who can look at the physical view of the
document and see the list on the page. (Lists are very common in PowerPoint
CommonLook Office will not only help users assure that their PDF document is Section
508 compliant, but will also help make sure the document is as useable (accessible) as
Who Should Use CommonLook Office?
Ideally, PowerPoint presentation authors should be using CommonLook Office as part
of their presentation creation process. This is because content authors have the best
knowledge of the material in their presentations. They know where the sections are
(requiring heading levels), they know where the lists are, and they know why particular
images are being used in the presentations (and what the most appropriate alternative
text would be for those images). Furthermore, content authors also know whether or
not images are being used simply for decoration, in which case the images should be
artifacted so that they are not read by screen readers.
Let’s Get Started!
This guide will take the user through the CommonLook Office software using the Quick
Start PowerPoint presentation. After opening the PowerPoint, start CommonLook
Office using the following steps:
1. On the PowerPoint ribbon, near the right side, click on the tab for CommonLook
2. In the CommonLook Office tab, there are a number of options for help and
preferences. Click the first button, “Create CommonLook PDF,” to open the
3. CommonLook Office will open and begin checking the presentation, running
through various accessibility criteria and checkpoints. Please Note: the “Create
Commonlook PDF” button is not like “print to PDF” or “export to PDF” in Microsoft
PowerPoint. The last two options (in Microsoft) will simply create a PDF
document from the current presentation. In contrast, choosing “Create
CommonLook PDF” will take the user through the various accessibility
checkpoints to ensure that the resulting PDF is accessible and compliant.
When CommonLook Office opens, the left side of the screen displays the thumbnails of
the slides used in the presentation, the middle panel displays the currently selected
slide, and the CommonLook wizard is shown on the right.
The default view in CommonLook Office is on the Current Checkpoint tab, and
CommonLook Office stops on the first checkpoint that has issues in the presentation.
Clicking on the “All Checkpoints” tab will show all of the checkpoints (PowerPoint,
Section 508, Additional Checks, and Metadata) that are tested and whether or not they
are applicable in the current presentation. The checkpoints that are bold are the ones
that need to be addressed. Either CommonLook Office has found a problem with that
checkpoint or the presentation needs to be manually verified in order to pass a
particular checkpoint (such as the appropriateness of alternative text on images).
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At the top of the CommonLook Office wizard is a yellow box that explains what each
checkpoint is looking for when CommonLook tests the presentation. In addition, there is
a link, labeled “More” to provide further information about the checkpoint including its
purpose, instructions on how to handle it, conformance criteria for Section 508, WCAG,
and PDF U/A, and links to supplemental information.
In the Quick Start Presentation, the first item to check is whether or not content on any
of the slides needs to be grouped together for proper tagging, reading order, and/or
To check for proper grouping, follow these steps:
1. When CommonLook Office opens, click on “Rectangle 7” in the Objects panel,
2. Check and see whether or not it should be grouped together with any other
content on that slide. (It shouldn’t – it’s the yellowish-gold box with the title of the
3. Click “Next Task” to advance down the Objects panel to “Subtitle 5” (the next
item in the Objects panel).
None of the objects on the first slide need to be grouped. So, continue clicking “Next
Task” to proceed to Slide 2. In fact, none of the items on any of the slides need to be
grouped until we reach Slide 6. (Verify this by clicking “Next Task” to work through the
Grouping the Objects on Slide 8
The Word Art (question marks) on Slide 8 should be grouped so that they are seen as
To group objects:
1. Click “Next Task” in Slide 8 until “WordArt5” is selected,
2. Click on WordArt6 and WordArt7 in the Objects panel so that the three WordArt
objects are selected,
3. In the button options below, click “Group.”
After the individual pieces are grouped together, in the Objects panel, they will simply
be listed as “Group(Figure)”.
Since we have now checked all of the slides for proper object grouping, click “Next
Applicable Checkpoint” (to the right of “Next Task”) to advance to the next checkpoint in
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While this checkpoint may seem similar to the Grouping checkpoint, and, in fact, if items
overlap then perhaps they should be grouped, in actuality this checkpoint is for the user
to verify that content is not being hidden by objects that overlap each other.
Click “Next Task” to scroll down the list of objects in the presentation to verify that
content is not being obstructed. If content is being covered up, then the slide should be
reformatted so that relevant information is visable. This is, in fact, another excellent
reason why the presentation author should be using CommonLook Office – so that if
design changes need to be made, someone with the authority to make the changes can
do so quickly and easily!
In this example, although items do in fact overlap each other, information is not lost.
Continuing to click “Next Task” will take the user through all of the slides and then will
proceed automatically to the next checkpoint – Lists.
When we land on the List checkpoint, there will be a list in the CommonLook Office
panel of all of the lists used on the various slides in the presentation.
Click on the first “List” and make sure that, in the physical view of the slide, the entire list
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In this first instance, everything is correct so click “Next Task.”
In the second list, there are a number of problems. First, the entire list (on the
PowerPoint slide) is not selected. Second, when we click the plus (+) sign next to the
list (in the CommonLook panel), we see that it is a list of three items. Clicking on the
second list item will reveal (in the PowerPoint slide) that this list item is simply an empty
space between the list items that do contain text.
In fact, clicking on the third list in the CommonLook panel will show that the third list
item on the current PowerPoint slide is actually being identified as a separate list of one
To Solve the Issue:
1. In the PowerPoint slide, click in the empty space between the first and second list
2. Delete the empty space,
3. Repeat the process with the empty space between the second and third list items
on the slide,
4. Click the “Reload” button located just above the “Next Task” button in the
CommonLook Office wizard.
Click again on the second list in the CommonLook Panel and verify that the
second list now corresponds with the entire list on that slide in PowerPoint.
Note: When the list was fixed, formatting was changed. To fix the formatting so
that the list appears as it originally did, use the Paragraph formatting tools in
6. Click “Next Task” to check the next list in the presentation.
The third list in the CommonLook Office panel is structured correctly. To see how
nested lists should be constructed, click the plus (+) sign next to the list to reveal the list
items. Click the plus (+) sign next to the third list item to open it. This will show the text
for that list item and the nested list inside.
The fourth and fifth lists in the CommonLook panel present the same problems that we
encountered with the second list and they can be fixed the same way. Place the cursor
in the empty spaces and delete them. Then, click the “Reload” button. Click on the last
list in the CommonLook Office panel to verify that the list is now assembled correctly.
Then, click “Next Applicable Checkpoint.”
As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, the proper use of heading levels is very
important so that users can understand the structure of the PDF document and so they
can easily navigate through it. The style mapping checkpoint is to make sure that the
proper heading levels are being assigned.
When the Style Mapping checkpoint opens, the first rectangle (Rectangle 7) will be
selected and it will also be highlighted in the slide. In the lower right corner of the
CommonLook Office wizard, the PDF tag that will be associated with that rectangle will
be displayed in a dropdown menu. In this case, it will be tagged as a Figure.
Click “Next Task.”
The second item in the list, “Title 1,” will be tagged as an H1 (heading level 1). This is
correct because the title of the presentation will become the title of the PDF document
and titles of documents should be tagged as heading level 1. Click “Next Task.”
Subtitle 5 is shown as “Autodetect” in the PDF tag menu. This is correct and we’ll see
in the resulting PDF that the textbox will be tagged correctly!
Continue clicking “Next Task” to work through the first slide (everything else is going to
be correctly tagged). Continue on to slide 2.
On the second slide, the text of “Outline” (shown as Title 1 in the CommonLook Panel)
will be tagged as an H2 (heading level 2). This is correct. Since the title of the
document is an H1, the subsections under the title (like chapters in a book) should be
tagged as heading level 2. Click “Next Task.”
Rectangle 13 is shown as “Autodetect” (again, correctly so). Click “Next Task.”
The next item, “Slide Number Placeholder 4” is set to be tagged as an artifact. In
actuality, “artifact” is not a tag and it will not appear in the tag tree. This is indeed
correct, however, because we do not want a screen reader to read slide numbers (or
page numbers) while reading through the content of a document. Click “Next Task.”
The final object on this slide is the image at the lower right corner. It will be correctly
tagged as a Figure. Click “Next Task” to move to the next slide.
Continue clicking “Next Task” through the rest of the slides to make sure that the items
on the slides will be tagged correctly. If there is an error, use the dropdown menu to
assign a different tag to the selected object.
At the end of slide 8, click “Next Applicable Checkpoint.”
Text Tags (Alternative Text)
When the text tags checkpoint opens, the CommonLook Panel will list all of the images
used in the PowerPoint. Below the panel are options to artifact (untag) images so that a
screen reader will not try to read them and to add alternative text to the image as
needed. If an image already has alternative text, the alt. text will be displayed to verify
that it is appropriate for the image. Again, this is a great example of why presentation
authors should be using CommonLook Office – because they really know what would
be appropriate alt. text for the images that are included in the presentation.
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