by Matt May

 Comments (7)


August 15, 2012

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

Content in this blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Example code provided is licensed under Adobe’s Creative Commons Plus License.

After many years of work and with contributions from individuals around the globe, the August 7, 2012 publication of ISO Standard 14289-1, better known as PDF/UA, marks one of the most significant developments in the evolution of the popular and widely used Portable Document Format (PDF). The publication and availability of PDF/UA will encourage the production of PDF files that are more consistently accessible to persons with disabilities.

Initially referred to as PDF/Access in 2004 by the AIIM standards committee, PDF/UA was conceived in response to the proliferation of PDF documents that were valid according to the PDF specification, but were insufficiently accessible to persons with disabilities. To meet the needs of the widest possible audience, the producers and viewers of PDF content needed a common standard.

The main PDF standard, ISO 32000, already defines the format’s accessibility features. What PDF/UA does is to clarify and demonstrate how those features should be used, for both producing and consuming PDF documents. As with the other PDF standards (such as PDF/A and PDF/X), ISO 14289 omits features of the PDF specification that are ill suited towards its purpose. Features of the PDF specification necessary for accessibility are mandated in PDF/UA even though they may be optional in the core PDF specification. Also, any features which are allowed in ISO 32000 but which inhibit accessibility are prohibited in PDF/UA.

It’s important to note that PDF/UA is neither a spec to measure PDF content, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), nor an everyday authoring guide. It focuses on giving developers of PDF authoring tools and viewers, as well as vendors of assistive technologies that support PDF, critical information on how to build and present PDF content more accessibly. The goal is to make accessible PDFs easy to author and use, however they are produced. While PDF/UA contains great information for authors on how to meet the needs of users with disabilities (and also to address most WCAG success criteria), much of that work should really be done by tools and read by assistive technology, so PDF/UA support will mean authors do less work and get more accessible content.

Over the last 8 years, Adobe has participated in the development of PDF/UA and we are integrating support for PDF/UA into our products. It’s important to us that our tools do what’s right to communicate effectively what authors intend.

Of course, this work extends beyond our own products, and so we’ve been supporting the open-source NVDA screen reader project to include support for PDF/UA and other PDF and Acrobat/Reader-related features as well.

If you want to follow the further developments of the standard or even participate, please see AIIM’s PDF Standards page.

If you are interested in PDF accessibility and PDF/UA, here’s two suggestions for you to learn more:

  • View our training materials for Acrobat and PDF accessibility. These resources offer information about how to use Acrobat to produce or repair PDF files for accessibility. WCAG Techniques for PDF are also available and provide useful information for authors looking to meet WCAG 2.0.
  • Check out the PDF/UA standard. The document itself can be purchased directly from ISO (You don’t have to buy this standard if you just want to author accessible PDF files. However, you should encourage authoring tool makers, PDF viewer makers, and AT vendors to buy it, read it, and support it.)



  • By Bevi Chagnon - 2:25 PM on August 15, 2012  

    Thanks for the effort!
    Since the ISO is charging 86,00 for a copy of the new PDF/UA standards (they are not readable for free on the ISO website), what’s the probability that Adobe will post at least a summary of the new standards on the Adobe website?

    • By AWK - 2:32 PM on August 15, 2012  

      Bevi, I’d love to, but of course that is a slippery slope as there is a lot of variability in “summary”. I’ll have to check into what we can do without running afoul ISO copyright…

      • By John Dev - 1:30 PM on August 18, 2012  

        How is the PDF spec ISO copyright? Adobe owns the IP, so, at the very least, ISO should only have a very limited right to the spec.

        In other words, ISO is of no consequence here…PRINT THE SPEC. What’s the point of a spec that is not available to the general public?

        • By AWK - 10:07 PM on August 19, 2012  

          The PDF specification is ISO 32000. However, when Adobe donated PDF to ISO it reserved the rights to publish the PDF 1.7 specification on its site. However, PDF/UA is different, it is an ISO effort that Adobe contributed to but the IP doesn’t belong to Adobe, so we can’t print the PDF/UA standard for you, sorry!

  • By Paul P. Schafer - 6:59 PM on August 27, 2012  

    Congratulations on realization of this standard, ISO and Adobe! So, what’s the timeframe/roadmap as to when we Mac and Windows users can expect to start noticing PDF/UA integrated into Mac and Windows OSs (e.g., Print to PDF/UA)? And to I understand correctly that such OS adoption of PDF/UA will eventually obviate or significantly reduce the need to provide proper tagging/remediate issues in Acrobat Pro vTBD?

    Thanks, Pleasant Week & Labor Day (next Monday), and Live Well! —Paul

  • By G F Mueden - 12:06 AM on September 1, 2012  

    This announcement is itself not accessible to those with a limited visual field due to retinal damage or due to poor acuity requiring magnification. In both cases the viewer must minimize and pull in the margins to have a narrow column. I would like to know what disabilities are helped by accessible PDFs and in what way. How am I to recognize an accessible PDF? Will one deal with the limited field problem described above? And how about my need for choice of font for my poor contrast sensitivity?

    Above all, where are these questions answered in the language I use? Those I have asked know so much about the insides that they have been unable to speak anything but the jargon of their trade. I need the answers in non technical, plain English. For eye readers, those who still read with their eyes but not well, being able to read PDFs is still a real pain. You must not expect the general public to know how to deal with them. Every PDF should have alternatives available, or say where instructions can be found. 212-222-8751

  • By Duff Johnson - 6:44 PM on November 27, 2012  

    @Paul – integration into the OS might be down the road; WCAG 2.0 isn’t there yet by any means. No, OS adoption of PDF/UA won’t eliminate the need for tagged PDF.

    @GF – The disability you mention is helped by PDF/UA because the new standard makes it easier for developers to create software that will reflow the contents of a PDF to meet your preferred viewing arrangement in a consistent manner. As to recognizing a PDF/UA file, Adobe Reader XI and Adobe Acrobat XI software will display a special standards icon when a PDF/UA file is opened.