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What is PDF/UA ?

What is PDF/UA ?

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January 10, 2023

A number of critical functions in electronic documents are performed by the robust and useful format known as PDF. However, there are several circumstances where a standard PDF without tags is useless. For example, text that users try to copy and paste can lead to a clutter of random characters. And navigation on a small screen makes mobile device users uncomfortable. This is completely unacceptable for users who read PDF files using assistive technologies, such as screen readers, joysticks, magnifiers, and Braille displays. To address this issue, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed a unique format. We’ll assist you in learning more about the PDF/UA file type. We will tell you who invented it and what benefits it has for you.

Table of Contents

What is PDF/UA?

In July 2012, the first version of PDF/UA was approved and published by ISO, officially named “ISO 14289-1”. It was intended to make PDF documents available to as many people as possible.
Currently, the UA standard helps people with disabilities access documents using appropriate software. The PDF/UA standard’s objective is for users with disabilities to be able to use documents independently without assistance. In addition, they should benefit from the content just as much as other people without disabilities.

PDF/UA is now an ISO standard and is recognized as a widely used part of the digital accessibility and PDF ecosystems.

The Global PDF Accessibility Standard

“UA” stands for “Universal Accessibility”. PDF/UA is a specification defining how to make a PDF document readable by means of special software. These assistive technologies have been applied so that a computer can read the contents of such a document aloud to anyone who depends on these technologies. PDF documents have become commonplace in our lives. Especially in areas such as banking, government services, utilities, employment, and medicine. Therefore, making them equally and easily accessible is really important.

By signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, many countries decided to work toward a more inclusive society. Now they are required to put these inclusive principles into practice at the national level and remove existing barriers to social inclusion. One key area here is access to information and communication in the form of documents, which PDF/UA now makes much easier.

Who uses PDF/UA?

Each document is easy to use, readable, and accessible to all users, regardless of their disability. For instance:

Partially-sighted users: People who are partially sighted can benefit from the larger screen and individual color and font size settings. As well as a smart screen magnifier, depending on the severity of their impairment.

Blind users: People who are blind or have severe visual impairments may use a Braille display or a so-called “screen reader” (which uses text-to-speech technology) to read PDF files.

  • A screen reader is a computer program that is installed on the user’s machine and reads all visible material out loud. 
  • A Braille display outputs text utilizing raised, moving Braille dots as a haptic interface for the same material.

Dyslexic users: learning to read is exceptionally challenging for those with dyslexia. They have trouble understanding and processing written language. Specialized screen readers and other assistive devices can help people get around this. These emphasize the same passage of text on the screen while reading the content loudly. This provides the reader with a hint, aids in understanding, and encourages them to read more fluently and learn written language.

User with limited hand or arm mobility: If you belong to this category, you can move and use the PDF document with the help of various assistive technologies. They could utilize an onscreen keyboard, a specialized mouse, or another type of keyboard in place of a standard computer mouse. Various input methods are also available to the user. For example special sensors, switches, key combinations, or magnification capabilities. Depending on the severity and nature of his or her disability and his or her own abilities. In addition, the user can use a gaze tracking system, eye movement software, or speech recognition software to control the computer.

Who uses PDF/UA

How to test my PDF file for readability?

To check a PDF file for readability, you can perform a useful test using assistive technologies. One free option is to use the NVDA software.
NonVisual Desktop Access is an open-source screen reader for the Microsoft Windows operating system. By providing feedback using synthetic speech and Braille, it allows blind or visually impaired people to access Windows computers.

Seminars, booklet, brochures

The PDF Association conducted numerous educational seminars on PDF/UA in Europe, Australia, and North America in 2012 and 2013 and published a book entitled “PDF/UA in a Nutshell.” It was published in English and German. An informational brochure has also been published in both languages.

You can read this book and read all the details about the PDF/UA standard here.

PDF/UA in a Nutshell.

Requirements for the PDF/UA file format

  • Flickering, shimmering, or flickering content, whether as JavaScript – driven effects or as part of any video embedded in a PDF file, is prohibited.
  • Meaningful content should be tagged with the appropriate meaningful tags.
  • The tags in the document create a complete structure tree.
  • The language of all content must be specified, and language changes must be explicitly marked as such.
  • It is necessary to specify the title of the document, and the document itself must be configured so that the title (and not the file name) is displayed in the window title.

PDF/UA compliance checking

A full compliance check requires a software tool as well as some manual human verification. The software tool will be able to determine the extent to which the PDF document meets the purely technical requirements of the PDF/UA standard. Manual verification is needed to verify what the software can’t evaluate. For example, correct reading order, adequacy of surrogate text descriptions, color contrast, header structure.

The free PDF/UA evaluation tool available is PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC).

People with disabilities who need assistive technology to read electronic content are interested in PDF/UA assistance. As much as the PDF format itself promises, users are guaranteed equal access to information through PDF/UA compliant files, readers, and assistive technology.
The benefits of PDF/UA do not only apply to people with disabilities. With PDF/UA support, readers can reliably repackage text on small screens. They help you highlight and copy text, improve search engine functionality, and transform the appearance of text. They also provide powerful navigation capabilities and much more. The introduction of the PDF/UA standard can be considered an important step in the creation of tools and applications for creating and reading PDF content.

PDF/UA
  • PDF/UA is an important step forward for PDF accessibility. Only an international standard will make it possible for authoring software, validation tools, browsers and assistive technology such as screen readers to accept the required technical specifications. PDF/UA creates a clear set of requirements which both software developers and PDF creators can use. And finally, this international standard gives a reference for legislators around the world. ” – Markus Riesch, Head of E-Accessibility Swiss Federal State and former managing director of the Swiss Foundation Access for All.

If you want to understand more about each PDF format, check out our other blog articles:

What is PDF/E ?

What is PDF/A?


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