March 3, 2017

PDF/UA: How It Came About and Why You Should Take Notice?

Did you know that the first version of PDF arrived in 1993? Well things have sure changed in the world since then. Thankfully, so has PDF. Back in 1993, PDF belonged to Adobe and over the years they made many improvements and enhancements in response to customer input and industry recommendations. Today we will provide … Continue reading “PDF/UA: How It Came About and Why You Should Take Notice?”

Did you know that the first version of PDF arrived in 1993? Well things have sure changed in the world since then. Thankfully, so has PDF.

Back in 1993, PDF belonged to Adobe and over the years they made many improvements and enhancements in response to customer input and industry recommendations. Today we will provide a brief review of some of the changes PDF has undergone and how those changes have led to PDF/UA, the ISO standard for accessible PDF. This important standard can help you meet your organization’s regulatory and customer-service obligations and avoid costly litigation.

First a bit of history. Back in 2000, Adobe added the capability to add ‘tags’ within PDF files. To use an uncommon word for a moment, tags add ‘semantic’ meaning to content within a PDF and tells us what that content is. For example, a tag might tell us that content is an image or a table. Another example is to have a heading tag applied to content within the PDF, identifying headings and their relative importance (‘Heading 1’ is more important than ‘Heading 2’). This introduction of tags is important because it started to lay the groundwork for making PDFs accessible.

In 2008, Adobe’s Reference 1.7 version of PDF became a Standard (ISO 32000-1:2008). Adobe handed the ongoing management and enhancement of PDF to subject-matter expert committees around the world through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). CrawfordTech’s Vice President of Product Management, Dave Hook, was a member of this committee and we were the only committee member on board to represent the unique needs of the transactional document industry.

A few other important events in accessible PDF’s history:

  • In 2001, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the United States went into effect. It requires that electronic and information systems must be made accessible to people with disabilities.
  • In 2004 AIIM’s PDF/UA project began. (See more details below.)
  • In 2008 WCAG (Website Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 is released – These new guidelines are the standard, developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) on how to make websites accessible.
  • In 2010, PDF/UA becomes a draft standard.
  • In late 2012, PDF/UA becomes a published standard as ISO 14289.

Why do we need this special version of PDF for Accessibility?

There have actually been several special versions of PDF that were defined to meet specific needs. All of these PDF standards define the subset of the PDF standard to use and how to use that subset. They are PDF/E (Engineering), PDF/A (Archiving), PDF/X (Digital Prepress), PDF/VT (Variable/Transactional Data Printing) and PDF/UA (Universal Asccessibility).

When using PDF/UA, those who generate accessible PDFs can do so according to an internationally-defined standard; the same standard that the producers of software and assistive technology used when developing their products. This ensures that products properly interpret accessible PDFs according to the defined standard.

How does PDF/UA help meet regulatory compliance?

There are many regulations that specify what your organization’s obligations are with regard to meeting the needs of people with disabilities. An obvious example is handicapped parking spaces. In the US these are often called ADA parking, where ADA stands for ‘Americans with Disabilities Act.’ Other examples include ramps for wheelchairs, push buttons that automatically open a door, etc. All of these are required by law.

Some of the relevant legislation here is:

  • US: Americans with Disabilities ACT – Title 3 Public accommodations,
  • US: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act,
  • US: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,
  • US: Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act – Access for People with Disabilities
  • Canada: AODA (Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)
  • Canada: Canadian Charter of Human Rights
  • Canada: PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act)
  • UK: Equality Act
  • EU: European Policy on Disability and the Position of People with Disabilities - Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; Article 21

The spirit of these laws state that you must provide access to individuals with disabilities in a way that is as similar as possible to those who do not have a disability.

There are more people that have document accessibility needs than most realize. There are approximately 25-million individuals in the United States, 1-million individuals in Canada and over 30-million individuals in the European Union who have difficulty reading bills, statements and other customer communications.

PDF/UA is one of many ways your organization can provide accessible electronic documents to your customers and help you meet regulatory obligations, while providing the best possible experience.

It is important to note that your document-accessibility strategy cannot be fulfilled by PDF/UA alone.The needs of individuals requiring document accessibility are diverse. You must consider Braille, large print documents, audio CDs and e-text to ensure that you meet the needs of all your customers.


Organizations that have not met their electronic document accessibility regulatory obligations have faced multi-million dollar fines and been mandated to take immediate action. Besides the negative impact on a company’s reputation, the courts have set a legal precendents by fining companies in excess of $10-million dollars.

Why else should I care about PDF/UA?

There are several issues PDF/UA can solve:

  1. A PDF/UA file can also be a PDF/A file, offering a single approach to address both your long-term archiving requirements as well as accessible PDF requirements.
  2. A PDF/UA file, due to its content tagging, makes the user experience on mobile devices much better due to text reflow as an alternative to zooming in on content in order to read it.
  3. A PDF/UA file can make content re-use easier due to the fact that the content is tagged. For example, copy & paste or extracting to HTML is more easily achieved.
  4. A PDF/UA file can provide better search results. If your archive or search tool can utilize PDF tags, the ability to find what you are looking for can be based on the complete set of actual PDF document content.

How Crawford Technologies leading the way

At Crawford Technologies we have spent a lot of time and effort representing the transactional document industry in the formation of this new ISO standard for accessible PDFs. In fact, we have been a member of the Canadian and US ISO committees for PDF/UA since 2009. As the only company representing the transactional documents industry on these committees, we ensured that requirements for these billions of documents produced annually were properly considered. This standard will make the lives of people who have difficulty accessing documents easier and give them more independence overall - and we are proud to be a part of that. With the recent announcement of our PRO Transform Plus for PDF/UA product, we are the only company in our industry to provide Braille, Large Print, audio, e-Text and PDF/UA capabilities for customer communications. Having the ability to create all of these formats is mandatory to providing equal access to information for those with disabilities.

Find out more by via Document Accessibility solutions and services. Also, be sure to learn more about our first to market automated PDF/UA solution for electronic document accessibility.