Accessible documents with PDF/UA – for dummies

Excerpt: This post provides a quick overview of PDF/UA that explains what PDF/UA is, why it should be used, what is important and how to create PDF/UA documents.

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April 6, 2022

This post is intended to give users a quick and concise overview.

What is PDF/UA?

UA stands for Universal Accessibility. PDF/UA is the ISO standard for accessible PDF documents.

Ensuring access to information for people with disabilities is in many cases a legal requirement. PDF technology includes a feature known as  “tagged PDF” that make accessible PDF files possible. A good example of the need for tagged PDF is a person who cannot see the text or images in a document. The Tagged PDF feature allow authors to provide the sequence and nature (heading, paragraph, list, etc.) of the text, and alternative descriptions for images.

Why use PDF/UA?

For government agencies in many countries accessibility is simply a legal requirement, as countries owe their citizens equal access to information. It’s often required of companies offering public accommodations, as the US Department of Justice recently ruled.

Good tagging produces better documents in ways that go beyond accessibility. Including document structural information helps in the optimal display of documents on different devices, and helps to categorize content for document analysis applications such as those using artificial intelligence.

What is PDF/UA important for?

To meet legal requirements and especially PDF documents that are published on websites. The effort is worth it for important documents that have a longer lifespan. A common approach in practice is low-barrier documents, which represent a compromise between cost and benefit aspects.

How to create PDF/UA?

For digital documents, the “secret” is in the source. PDF/UA files should be made using software that supports Tagged PDF, as editing an inaccessible PDF afterwards is relatively much effort. Most documents are created in Office applications and well-prepared templates help here. Office packages such as Microsoft already offer checking functions. Conversion to PDF/UA is then usually quite straightforward.

Technically, there are many details for accessible documents.

From an organizational point of view, in addition to education on accessible authoring, it has been proven in practice that it requires experts to prepare templates, allowing users to concentrate on the document content.

Scanned documents are a separate area. A scanned document is not accessible at first. Here there are some tools for single documents as well as for mass processing that perform auto-tagging. These tools already recognize a lot of the structures in the document, but only achieve a low-barrier result. The manual rework for full accessibility is significantly reduced.

Many companies also offer tagging services to manually optimize documents.

The members of the PDF Association offer many solutions for PDF/UA which can be found in the product index. You can also simply specify your requirements via the Solution Agent and then receive customized suggestions from the members.

More information on PDF/UA.