What does “universal accessibility” actually mean when it comes to PDFs? It is the idea that everyone should be equally able to independently access and use the information contained within a PDF document. This applies in particular to people with disabilities and those with other difficulties; in other words, those who particularly depend on universally accessible information and documents. The PDF/UA standard allows these people the following key options:
- Making use of PDF documents without assistance from others
- Reaching a specific goal easily, directly, and within a reasonable time frame
- Making the same-quality use of PDF documents as people without disabilities.
The technical requirements for universally accessible PDF documents are described clearly and in full in the new PDF/UA standard. They define, for example, how to create text, images, form fields, lists and tables that can be used by people with disabilities.
Laws requiring accessible IT services
These requirements are increasingly important for businesses and public institutions, as current legislation requires (and in some cases has regulated for many years) universal accessibility in information technology. Laws in the USA, Canada, Australia and the European Union, for example, require state and federal authorities to allow the public universal access to the digital information they provide. Aside from websites, this applies in particular to PDF documents. Although such laws do not always apply to the private sector (or apply only in limited cases), more and more modern businesses are accepting their responsibility to provide accessible versions of both their websites and the PDF documents they provide.
Introduction to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
The requirements for PDF/UA are based on the principles of Version 2.0 of the W3C consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), also published in identical form as an ISO standard in October 2012 (ISO/IEC 40500). WCAG 2.0 guides the creation of accessible web content, focusing on the kinds of content and applications usually provided on websites.
Some WCAG 2.0 tips of a purely informative nature suggest how barriers to access can also be avoided in PDF documents, but a systematic explanation or guide is not provided. PDF/UA, on the other hand, exclusively and fully addresses the PDF format, bringing the ideas behind WCAG 2.0 into the world of PDF and setting PDF-specific rules.
As an ISO standard, PDF/UA does not offer concrete help with implementation, either for specific programs or areas of application. This, however, is covered by the PDF/UA Competence Center founded by the PDF Association. The PDF/UA Competence Center is made up of leading international businesses and individual experts who use the website www.pdfa.org, as well as publications, seminars and conferences, to provide information about implementing PDF/UA in practice.