Posts in Category "Policy"

November 12, 2013

Adobe supports the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted in 2006, and has since been signed by 137 countries. The CRPD affirms the equality of all people, without exceptions due to their abilities. This month, Adobe sent a letter of support for the ratification of the Convention to Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Senate is responsible for approving treaties put forward for ratification by the president. The CRPD was signed by the United States in 2009. Unfortunately, at the time the CRPD was first presented to the Senate, it was not approved, falling just a few votes short of the required two-thirds vote.

Adobe is adding its voice to the chorus of organizations and advocates that believe the CRPD is an important step toward ensuring people with disabilities have equal access to government services, employment opportunities, and technological advances. One of the expectations of the CRPD is that ratifying countries will adopt standards for information technology accessibility. In order to facilitate the goal of equal access, it is critical that the adopted standards be harmonized to ensure that software from companies such as Adobe, developers creating content, and assistive technology vendors can focus on a single global standard for accessibility rather than needing to address unique requirements in each country.

The United States, through legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, has already affirmed that disability must not be a barrier to entering a building, finding and keeping a job, interacting with government officials and services, shopping, dining out, or moving from place to place. Other U.S. laws guarantee equal access to education, voting, buying a home, catching a flight, and even watch TV shows on the Internet. While there is still work to be done, the foresight of bipartisan U.S. policymakers over the decades in creating a legislative framework that moves this country toward equal access for all people is now being emulated worldwide. Ratifying the CRPD will further show the world that these are the values we should all share.

8:55 AM Permalink
June 25, 2013

What is PDF/UA all about, anyway?

The PDF/UA (“Universal Accessibility”) specification, or ISO 14289, published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in August of last year, was a big step forward for authors of the tools we use to create and consume PDF content. But what the spec itself does is a little harder to explain, and there’s been a lot of confusion. I even confused myself recently about what PDF/UA does and doesn’t specify. So I thought it might help to summarize the spec in some detail for those who are coming to grips with its place in the world of PDF accessibility.

If the PDF/UA specification could be summed up in one sentence, it may go something like this:

“PDF/UA makes certain that the PDF format isn’t the source of accessibility problems.”

The end result of a document built using the PDF/UA spec is a more reliable, more accessible document that avoids the tricks and traps that PDF can present. PDF authors don’t need to know anything specific about what goes on behind the scenes; the tools themselves are responsible for adding and preserving the accessibility of the PDF. That’s the value of PDF/UA.

That does not mean that a PDF/UA-compliant document will always be perfectly accessible—issues like poorly-built Word documents or other source material will, of course, carry their accessibility flaws no matter what format they’re converted into. No one should claim that PDF/UA conformance means that a given document will pass the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, and organizations shouldn’t treat PDF/UA as a WCAG stand-in. But conformance does indicate that the authoring process for a given piece of content retains its accessibility level when it’s output as a PDF.

The PDF/UA specification defines conformance for three different aspects of PDF: content, readers, and assistive technology. The authoring tools are intentionally omitted: only the content they produce matters here, and that can only be measured at the individual document level.

We’ve seen a number of organizations that are specifying PDF/UA-compliant documents, and that’s a worthwhile approach, as far as it goes. The revamped accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro XI bases its tests on PDF/UA and WCAG criteria, but doesn’t yet fully test PDF/UA compliance.

The PDF/UA document itself is 23 pages, and thanks to ISO’s publishing model, it’s about $90 US to purchase a copy. We’re sensitive to the cost issue here, but in the interest of full disclosure, Adobe doesn’t own this work (it was the product of participants from a number of companies, and its copyright belongs to ISO), so we’re not able to simply republish the spec. To those who are planning to implement PDF/UA in their readers and assistive technologies, $90 is not a barrier (and if you promise to implement PDF/UA in an open-source tool, I’ll buy you a copy myself, though I’m sure I’d get the better end of that deal).

The material is what we in America call “inside baseball”—it’s very technical, requires a solid understanding of PDF internals, and is heavily cross-referenced with ISO 32000-1:2008, the PDF 1.7 specification. If your goal is to author accessible PDFs, this is not the spec for you; you’re better off looking at the PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0. However, I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing this spec so that everyone has a chance to understand what conformance entails.

The spec starts by listing what PDF/UA does not do: help with converting paper or electronic documents to PDF/UA; give implementation advice for rendering PDF documents; or tell you how to store PDFs or what OS to use. The rest of the front matter includes normative references to WCAG 2.0, PDF 1.7, PDF/A-2, and PDF/X-1a; defining a handful of terms; and setting a namespace for PDF/UA metadata which goes into every conforming file.

The document then defines conformance at three levels: individual files, PDF readers, and assistive technology.

Conforming files

A conforming file contains features that are valid according to the PDF 1.7 spec, except for features PDF/UA specifically forbids. It has to be marked as a PDF/UA document as described in Section 5, and meet all the requirements in Section 7 below.

Conforming reader

A conforming reader must also be a conforming reader according to PDF 1.7. It will support all the tags, attributes and key values specified for accessibility, and respect when optional content is hidden. It will make the logical reading order available. It will allow AT to inspect artifacts, and its interface must itself be accessible, and not interfere with any AT feature.

There are some repair techniques for headings and tables, rules for handling optional content, attached and embedded files, digital signatures, actions, metadata, navigation, annotations, forms and media.

Conforming assistive technology

A conforming AT supports all of the features of the content and the reader, and should allow navigation by page labels, document structure, or the outline. It should also let the user override default navigation zoom. (A combined reader and AT, perhaps something like TextHelp’s PDF Aloud, could be both a conforming reader and a conforming AT.)

File format requirements

This is the meat of the spec, and there’s some good advice in here for those of you who are already well-versed in tagging PDFs.

All PDF/UA documents must be tagged PDF. Tags must be semantically appropriate (that is, you can’t just mark everything <p> and be done), and in logical reading order. Artifacts (sometimes referred to as “Background” in Acrobat) must not be tagged. If a PDF does anything non-standard with its tags, those tags have to be remapped to standard PDF tags. Standard tags can’t be overridden.

Content can’t flicker, blink or flash, and it can’t be conveyed solely by color, contrast, formatting,  layout or sound. Image-only PDFs may be created, but their content must also be tagged.

The document must have a title, and it must be displayed in the title bar.

Text must be Unicode. The document’s language, and any changes in language, must be declared.

Graphics must be marked up with the Figure tag, and must have alt text, unless it’s presentational, in which case it’s an Artifact. Groups of images that represent one thought are to be tagged as a single Figure. Captions that go with figures must be tagged as such.

Headings must be nested sequentially (e.g., H1-H2-H3 is acceptable, but H1-H3 is not). Headings can go as deep as necessary (e.g., H1041 is valid, if you’ve used the first 1040 levels). Generic “H” headings are acceptable, but can’t be used interchangeably with numbered headings.

Tables should have headers (“TH” tags) with a Scope attribute.

Lists must be marked up appropriately.

Math equations must be in a Formula tag, with alt text.

Page headers and footers must be marked up as Pagination artifacts, so they’re not read out repeatedly.

Footnotes and endnotes must be marked up with the Note tag.

All optional content configuration dictionaries (a PDF feature which allows content to be hidden conditionally) must be named.

Any embedded files must also be accessible.

Article threads (which allow multicolumn layouts across pages) must retain proper reading order.

Digital signature form fields must be laid out accessibly.

Non-interactive forms have to be tagged with PDF “PrintField” attributes so they will appear as read-only form fields to AT.

Static XFA-based forms are allowed. Dynamic XFA forms are not.

Secured documents must allow AT access.

Documents should have outlines that reflect the reading order and nav hierarchy.

Visible annotations must be represented in the right place in the reading order.

Tab order must be defined.

Links must be tagged, and contain an alternate description.

Metadata tags must be properly set for embedded media.

Actions (i.e., scripting) are allowed. Changes in content or focus must be announced to AT, and cannot set time limits on individual keystrokes.

There are requirements for the implementation of fonts that are well out of scope for an overview, but important for reliable rendering of fonts across operating systems and reader implementations.


So, that’s it. We’re hoping a little transparency regarding PDF/UA helps everyone understand what it does and doesn’t do. In time, we anticipate that PDF/UA will make accessible authoring a more automatic and uniform process across authoring tools, which in turn will make the accessibility of PDFs in the wild a lot better in general.

1:45 PM Permalink
March 7, 2013

Andrew Kirkpatrick to Co-Chair WCAG WG

It’s hard to measure the impact the W3C/WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (WCAG WG) has had on web accessibility. The WCAG 2.0 standard is the basis for a growing number of policies worldwide, providing a common reference for web content that adapts to users of all levels of ability.

Andrew Kirkpatrick, Group Product Manager for Accessibility, has been offered and accepted the role of co-chair of the WCAG WG, along with Joshue O’Connor of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. Andrew and Joshue will take the place of Gregg Vanderheiden, who has chaired the WCAG WG since its inception, and Loretta Guarino-Reid, who played a pivotal role shepherding WCAG 2.0 to its final status as a W3C Recommendation in 2008. Both Loretta and Gregg will continue to participate in the WCAG WG, and we at Adobe Accessibility extend our gratitude to them for their years of effort moving the field of accessibility forward.

Andrew’s role will include the rechartering of the working group, to define goals for the working group and the WCAG standard in the coming years, as well as to reflect its continued development of accessibility techniques and other supporting materials. Andrew would like to hear from people from all different backgrounds on how the WCAG WG can help advance web accessibility overall. Apart from his Twitter account, @awkawk, leaving a comment here is one way to reach him, or you can submit a comment to the WCAG working group via the online form.

8:39 PM Permalink
December 3, 2012

Proposal for a new directive on EU web accessibility

Today the European Commission’s Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (more commonly known as ‘DG Connect’) released a new proposal for a directive on “Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies’ Websites”. The proposed directive will require twelve categories of EU public sector websites which provide essential public services to EU citizens to comply with W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at the AA level. The proposal also makes clear that this level of accessibility support is desirable for all public sector websites.

Adobe supports efforts to provide clear and globally-harmonized standards for accessibility, and applauds DG Connect for referencing the WCAG 2.0 standard which not only represents a high bar for accessibility standards, but that is being incorporated into policy in many countries around the world including Australia, Canada, India, Japan, and the USA. This helps ensure that vendors like Adobe and web developers around the world don’t need to learn different accessibility standards in order to ensure that their tools and content promote and meet accessibility requirements.

The goal of ensuring that these services are accessible by 2015 is also manifestly the right thing to do as all people need access to government information and services. It will take time to approve this proposal and for individual EU member countries to incorporate the new law into national policy, but this is an important proposal that will help clarify what needs to be done to provide access to all users. Adobe supports this proposal in principle and in practice with our product offerings such as Dreamweaver and CQ which help web authors address accessibility, as well as our tools for creating accessible PDF documents and providing access to video content delivered on the web. More information about these products is available at the Adobe Accessibility Resource Center.

We commend the DG Connect for helping move accessibility forward in Europe. We encourage those interested to read the proposal, now available on DG Connect’s Digital Agenda web site.

4:03 AM Permalink