What is PDF/UA?

The PDF/UA standard - formally known as ISO 14289-1 - is designed to ensure that PDFs are universally accessible. Aimed at everyone involved in creating PDFs, it sets minimum requirements that make sure documents are compliant with devices that support people with disabilities. Read on to find out more about PDF/UA, including its uses and advantages.

What you’ll learn.





What is a PDF/UA standard?


At first glance, a PDF/UA may look the same as the traditional PDF format you’re probably already familiar with. However, it contains some crucial differences. The PDF/UA standard was designed so that users with disabilities can use the same files and get the same level of value from them.  


What does PDF/UA stand for?


PDF stands for Portable Document Format. UA stands for universal accessibility, a reference to its set of requirements that make PDF documents accessible to all users. 

History of the PDF/UA.


The original PDF was first released in 1993 but, despite its widespread success, it was a format that remained unusable for a large number of people. As it was primarily focused on the visual elements of a document, users with sight loss found it hard to navigate and access the content on a standard PDF. 


In 2004, a group organised by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) set about developing a universally accessible standard for PDF types. Fast forward four years and a range of companies including Adobe, Microsoft and callas software were involved in the standardisation of what would become UA. Several years and a round of intensive testing later, the PDF/UA standard was ready to be released in 2012.

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What is PDF/UA used for?


PDF/UA files essentially carry out the same role as standard PDF files. However, a key difference is that documents that follow the PDF/UA guidelines are accessible to all. 


PDF/UA files require the information on their pages to be tagged so assistive technology can determine what to share and what to omit. While everything on a PDF page is included for a reason, some elements - such as decorative borders - may be less important than others. The PDF/UA format also allows users to create structure trees out of tags so that assistive programmes know in which order to read information.



Advantages of the PDF/UA format.



  • Universal accessibility. As we’ve already covered, the PDF/UA standard defines a set of requirements that guarantees a PDF is compatible with assistive technology. This then ensures disabled users are able to access the information contained within the document. Examples include compatibility with screen readers for blind or partially sighted users, speech recognition software and eye tracking systems.
  • Helps creators to build accessible documents. As part of the drive to create accessible documents, the creators of the PDF/UA standard realised it was essential that document creators should be able to understand what’s required of them. The effective tagging process makes it easier for document creators to build an accessible version of their documents.




How to open a PDF/UA file.


A PDF/UA file can be opened in the same way as a standard PDF. If it’s in an email or saved on your computer, you should be able to open it by simply double clicking the file. If you have Adobe Acrobat, the PDF opens automatically. 


If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat, you can download it for free. If you have Adobe Acrobat but PDFs don’t open automatically when you click them, you can fix this by doing the following:


  • Right click the file
  • Select ‘Open with’
  • Find Adobe Acrobat, select it and press ‘Ok’.



How to create and edit a PDF/UA file.


Firstly, creating a PDF/UA requires Adobe Acrobat Pro and a finalised PDF. But from there, the Make Accessible function is designed to take you through the steps required to make a PDF accessible to all users. It looks for any aspects that can be improved, from scanned texts to missing documentation or titles. 


To find the Make Accessible function, head to Tools, then Action Wizard in Acrobat Pro. 


From the Actions List, you should see the option Make Accessible. 


From here you can select the files you want to apply the action to. After you apply the action to your chosen files, you should receive prompts that help you to make your files accessible.



Learn more about similar file types to PDF/UA.



This PDF standard is designed for variable data printing, which is ideal for direct marketing and advertising.



Take a dive into the archives with PDF/A, the specialist file type designed for the long-term storage of electronic documents. 



Built for busy workflows, PDF/E is used to create documents for the construction and manufacturing industries. 



The original PDF has come a long way since its origins in the early 1990s. Discover more about this evergreen format and how it’s still useful today. 


Want to know more about the different types of PDF and how they work? Check out our guide to the history of PDFs

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What is the difference between PDF/An and PDF/UA?


While the names of the two formats are similar, their purposes are quite different. PDF/A is designed as a way of storing electronic documents for a long period of time. PDF/UA is the standard for adapting PDFs to ensure full accessibility. 


What is the difference between PDF/UA and WCAG? 


WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. While both WCAG and PDF/UA are both concerned with making content more accessible, WCAG is intended to make content you would find online accessible. You might find a PDF/UA online, however, not all pages that subscribe to the WCAG will be PDF/UA file types. 


Are all PDFs accessible to screen readers?


Typically, PDFs are accessible with screen readers. However, the order in which the screen reader reads the PDF may be incorrect without PDF/UA guidance. Likewise, if the PDF is scanned text or a saved image, a screen reader would be unable to read the page. 


What does ADA stand for?


You may have seen the term ADA in reference to PDF/UA. In this context, ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act and references that the PDF/UA file type can help to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. 


How do I know if my PDF is ADA compliant?


With Adobe’s Acrobat Pro it’s easy to check if your PDF is ADA compliant. Select Tools, before heading to Accessibility. From there you should be able to run the option Full Check. Once the check has completed, the report should tell you everything you need to know. 



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