PDF/UA defines a standardised, universal set of requirements for PDF accessibility. These guidelines serve as a roadmap for everyone involved with the standard, guaranteeing that the relevant software, hardware and digital documents can work together as effectively as possible – provided they comply with the standard.
If a PDF document fails to meet these technical specifications, however, then this intercompatibility is no longer guaranteed. Disabled users will be disproportionately affected and may no longer have equal-opportunity, independent access to information. This contradicts the goals of an inclusive society which more and more countries around the world are working to enshrine in law. US laws, for example, require the information provided by federal authorities to be universally accessible and usable. The growing political interest in universally-accessible information technology is also indicative of a trend not just towards opening up public institutions, but towards requiring the private sector to make the information it provides more accessible as well.
Inclusion: The basic principle of social inclusion is that society accepts each person as an individual; in other words, everyone should be able to participate fully and equally in society.
PDF/UA helps meet these kinds of legal requirements. PDF/UA-compliant PDF documents are universally accessible from a technical standpoint, which means they allow improved communication for people with disabilities in particular. Many legislative bodies refer to WCAG 2.0, the international guidelines for accessible web content. When it comes to PDF files, these guidelines can be met by complying with PDF/UA’s specific, unambiguous requirements. Organisations can also reduce their liability by creating, transmitting and publishing documents and information based on internationally-recognised standards.
In making their PDF documents more accessible of their own free will (without being legally required to do so), non-public organisations are accepting a corporate social responsibility. This can be considered a valuable foundation for building a comprehensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. As accessible PDF documents are currently still the exception rather than the rule, businesses who adopt them can use the opportunity to improve their public image.
PDF/UA can bring financial as well as social benefits. Improving your public image can go hand in hand with winning new customers and increasing your market potential. This refers in particular to people with disabilities. Many businesses remain unaware, however, that this group includes an increasing number of older people as the global population ages. These consumers have significant life savings which they are willing to spend. A large number of older people live with one or more disabilities which may have arisen from a number of illnesses over their lifetime or simply from declining faculties. Regardless of age, however, disabilities can sometimes be caused by accidents or arise as a result of a serious illness. Businesses and public authorities can also use accessible PDF documents to better reach people who are unfamiliar with using computers, who struggle with a document’s language, or whose written language skills are limited. Depending on how the term is defined, for example, several million adults in Germany can be considered illiterate – 12% of whom nevertheless have some form of higher education. Finally, the usability of PDF documents on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can also be increased, as PDF/UA-compliant documents can be rearranged to suit the screen they are displayed on.