PDF/UA: The ISO standard for universal accessibility

PDF/UA in a Nutshell

Information plays a central role in society today, and it is becoming more and more common for that information to be offered in digital form alone. The reliable, user-friendly Portable Document Format (PDF) has become the world’s file type of choice for providing information as a digital document.

Tags can be added to a PDF in order to structure the content of a document. These tags are a critical requirement if any form of assistive technology (such as screen readers, specialist mice, and speech recognition and text-to-speech software) is to gain access to this content. To date, PDF documents have rarely been tagged, and not all software can make use of PDF tags. In practical terms, this particularly reduces information‘s accessibility for people with disabilities who rely on assistive technology.

Tagged PDF: Tags are standardised content markers in a digital document. First available in Adobe Acrobat 5, tags can be used to create a PDF file with a logical document structure . Tags are a critical requirement for accessing the content in PDFs with assistive technology.

In order to ensure future access to PDF documents for as many people as possible, the ISO 14289-1 standard (known as PDF/UA) was developed by specialists from around the world. It was published by the ISO in July 2012 with the official title “ISO 14289-1. Document management applications – Electronic document file format enhancement for accessibility – Part 1: Use of ISO 32000-1 (PDF/UA-1)”.

PDF/UA-1 is the first part of the PDF/UA standards family; the “UA” suffix stands for “Universal Accessibility” and refers to the standard’s central requirement. It is the first complete definition of a set of requirements for universally-accessible PDF documents.

PDF/UA is aimed primarily at developers of software for creating, reading, editing and validating PDF, and at suppliers of assistive technology. The standard itself is not intended as a field manual for day-to-day use, but for PDF creators looking to learn more. The PDF Association and its members offer specialist articles, webinars and training, providing detailed information about PDF/UA and explaining how to create accessible PDF content. Implementing the clearly-defined requirements of the PDF/UA standard in software products will allow users to easily create accessible PDF documents without any special training, opening up effortless access to high quality content to as many people as possible.

At the time of PDF/UA’s publication, of course, there were no programs available which were fully compliant with the standard. Since then, however, a number of software developers including Adobe Systems, axaio software, callas software, NetCentric Technologies, NV Access, PDFlib, xyMedia, the Swiss National Association of and for the Blind (SNAB), and the Swiss foundation “Zugang für alle” (Access For All) have already announced or even released products supporting the PDF/UA format.

More and more developers, government authorities and other organisations are expected to accept PDF/UA as an absolute requirement for universally accessible PDF documents from this point on.

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About PDF Association

Founded in 2006 as the PDF/A Competence Center, the PDF Association exists to promote the adoption and implementation of International Standards for PDF technology.

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