May 7, 2014

Accessible PDF’s: What’s the Difference Between WGAG 2.0 Accessible PDFs and PDF/UA Accessible PDFs?

Many people ask us how do we make our PDFs accessible and what is the difference between Accessible PDFs that adhere to WCAG2.0 guidelines or PDF/UA standards. We’ll discuss the differences and similarities when making your documents accessible for the blind, or partially sighted.

Let’s discuss the history and capabilities of PDF. The Portable Document Format has been around for almost 25 years. Being developed in the early 1990’s. The intent was to provide a format for sharing, formatting, and publishing content and images to multi-platform systems. The PDF file format has been around as the de facto document standard on electronic platforms. However, it was developed years before the rise of the popularity of the web.

It is important to remember that Adobe relinquished control of the PDF standard to ISO in 2008. In that year Adobe PDF Version 1.7 (released in 2006) became an ISO standard called ISO 32000-1:2008.

Since then various other sub-sets of that standard have been developed. These standards are used to specify how specific aspects of that standard may be used in precise ways to meet industry needs. These include:

  • PDF/E (ISO 2457), which is a PDF standard specifically for Engineering documents and their requirements
  • PDF/X (ISO 15929 and ISO 15930), which is a PDF standard that is specifically intended for the Graphic Arts, Prepress environments to convey digital data for those environments.
  • PDF/VT (ISO 16612-2), which is another Graphic Arts focused PDF standard that also includes specifications for variable data and transactional data.
  • PDF/A (ISO 9005), which is a PDF standard specifically for long term PDF preservation for archiving
  • And PDF/UA (ISO 14289), which is a PDF standard specifically intended to make the content within a PDF available for accessibility.

With the need for accessible web sites, Web content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were also developed. These GUIDELINES were mainly aimed at making web pages and web content accessible to disabled users, using assistive technologies and emerging technologies such as smartphones.

WCAG 1.0 was published in May 1999 followed by WCAG 2.0 in 2008 which was accepted as an ISO Standard – ISO/IEC 40500: 2012 in 2012.

WCAG 2.0 is a guideline that covers a broad range of requirements from visual, audio output, cognitive challenges, and even some guidelines for PDF Accessibility.

It is very important to realize that PDFs can be compliant to WCAG 2.0 guidelines and to the PDF/UA standard. As a part of the development of the PDF/UA standard the committee members leading organizations such as Adobe, Microsoft, Appligent, Crawford Technologies and many others worked with the WCAG committee to map WCAG 2.0 guidelines to the specific sections of PDF/UA standard, thus ensuring WCAG compliance by following the precise specifications within the ISO standard.

As a result AIIM, the governing body for ISO standards, published a document that shows how to achieve WCAG 2.0 through the use of the PDF/UA standard. It can be found here:

Crawford Technologies worked with the PDF/UA committee to represent the needs of transactional documents within this important ISO standard. While working with the committee we came up with our PRO Transform Plus for PDF/UA product. This product provides a solution to create statements, invoices and other variable documents in an accessible PDF format that conforms to the ISO 14289-1 standard. If you have any more questions or want to know more about our Document Accessibility, please click here.

We recently had a great webinar around Document Accessibility and wanted to share the replay for you to enjoy!