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August 15, 2012 /News, Views & Updates /

A New Standard for PDF Accessibility: PDF/UA

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.)

Andrew Kirkpatrick, Group Product Manager Accessibility, Adobe

Categories: News, Views & Updates