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PDF/UA: Steady Progress Towards Publication – PDF Association

PDF/UA: Steady Progress Towards Publication

By Duff Johnson

17. September 2011


In development since 2004, PDF/UA is now almost ready for implementers and policy-makers.

While it's been possible to make accessible PDF using Adobe's Acrobat Professional since 2000, many developers have avoided this technically complex area due to the lack of standardization and relatively poor support in the AT developer community.

That's why PDF/UA is eagerly awaited in the accessible technology (AT) community, in government and by disabled users, search-engine developers and others who depend on logically-structured content.

PDF/UA details a set of essential and optional features that must be present in files and software claiming conformance with the Standard. As such, PDF/UA provides policy-makers with the regulatory tool they've been looking for: a way to understand the W3C's WCAG 2.0 in the PDF context, and thus a clear means of directing procurement officials on software purchasing decisions. It remains for software developers to meet the challenge offered by this strict new standard.

Disabled users aren't the only ones to benefit from PDF/UA. The standard requires correct tagging of a document's contents to identify logical order and semantics with the goal of enhancing the output quality of any process that involves extracting text and graphics from the page. Implementations taking advantage of PDF/UA will see improved performance of PDF content in search-engines, text-to-speech applications, reflow on mobile devices, and more.

The chances are good that governments worldwide will sooner or later move towards adoption of PDF/UA conforming software for their desktop electronic document applications, high-volume document generation systems, and elsewhere. It's time PDF developers started thinking about how to respond to this new International Standard which specifies the ISO 32000 features and other technical requirements necessary for accessible PDF documents and forms.

PDF/UA-1 is now off to its second formal Draft, and the Committee does not expect many (perhaps any) significant changes prior to publication. The next meeting of the International Committee for PDF/UA will be hosted by Microsoft and held in Bellevue, Washington during ISO's TC 171 SC 2 Winter Meeting, also known as "PDF Standards Week" in December 2012, and should begin the final phase of PDF/UA development prior to publication sometime in 2012.

Those PDF Association members interested in PDF/UA should email editor@pdfa.org to ask to to be kept informed as the PDF/UA Competence Center is set up and the Technical and Marketing Working Groups are brought online. We can also assist you in getting involved directly with the Standards development process itself, via AIIM in the US, or member countries of ISO TC 171 elsewhere.


Duff Johnson

A veteran of the electronic document space, Duff Johnson is an independent consultant, Executive Director of the PDF Association and ISO Project co-Leader (and US TAG chair) for ISO 32000 and ISO 1428 …

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