Barrier-free documents with PDF/UA

Accessibility against exclusion

In principle, barrier-free documents should be accessible to visually impaired people as well as to people without disabilities. Making them available is an important aspect of digitisation. Their economic and socio-political significance is increasing.

More and more people affected

Germany is home to well over one million visually impaired and blind people. Their number is growing in line with the rising average age of the population, because about 50% of the causes of visual impairment are age-related – in other words, from the age of 40.

Legal basis

The intention of the German Basic Law and the associated inclusion efforts is to allow these people to participate in normal life as much as possible. In the context of digitisation, this means removing barriers to access websites and electronic documents. These efforts are formulated in the German Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons Act (BGG) and in the Barrier-free Information Technology Ordinance (BITV). Since 2005, public institutions of the Federal Government have been obliged to design their Internet access and documents in accordance with the accessibility guidelines.

Private initiatives

In the private sector, it has been shown that awareness-raising measures and awareness-raising on the subject have a much greater effect than legal regulations. This has led to numerous initiatives aimed at improving access for all people and especially job opportunities for disabled people by removing barriers in professional communication. For example, within the framework of the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBSV) or the Swiss foundation “Access for all”.


kühn & weyh supports these initiatives and offers with the output format PDF/UA since 2014 (from release 6.5) the possibility to create barrier-free documents within professionally organized document processes. Among other things, the responsible PDF renderer generates valid PDF/UA format, so that barrier-free documents can be created professionally with Series M/ without additional license costs.

For the Arbeitsmarkt Service Österreich AMS, for example, this function played an important role when it came to introducing a new system for document creation and output management. Because as a public sector company it is obliged (as in Germany) to meet the European requirements for accessibility – no problem with Series M/.

What do accessible (business) documents look like?

Criteria defining barrier-free access to documents can be found in the BITV, which is authoritative for Germany, and at global level in the recommendations for barrier-free web access of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international committee for the standardization of technologies on the World Wide Web. These include:

  • Carefully structured texts that provide an overview with enumerations, numbering, etc.
  • Formal text markup such as headings, paragraphs, footnotes, columns, tables, etc.
  • Easier navigation through the table of contents with direct navigation to the topics
  • Summary of contents
  • Use of clearly legible fonts and font sizes
  • Describe audio-visual elements as well as images and graphics with equivalent alternative texts
  • Do not use colours as meaningful elements, the content should also be understandable in B/W
  • And much more besides

PDF/UA Competence Center Logo PDF/UA – made for Universal Accesibility

Concentrated expertise at the PDF/UA Competence Center of the PDF Association

Internationally defined standard

PDF/UA is based on the above-mentioned Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the W3C and has been an internationally standardized document format according to ISO standards since 2012. Like all other PDF formats, it can be displayed with freely accessible viewers such as Acrobat Reader and can be checked for conformity with a tool such as the PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC) from the “Access for All” foundation.

Technical basis: Tagged PDF

The structural information and metadata mentioned above must be written into the document as so-called <tags>. Assistive technologies such as screen readers depend on this information, for example, to be able to read out multi-column texts correctly, to ignore footers or to describe graphics using the associated alternative text, etc. Here is a letter with structural information created with the M/ series in valid PDF/UA.

Image description: Left: Display in Acrobat Reader. Right: Display in the screen reader mode of the PAC2 Viewer.Image description: Left: Display in Acrobat Reader. Right: Display in the screen reader mode of the PAC2 Viewer.

The mobility bonus

The tagging required by the PDF/UA format not only fulfills the conditions for barrier-free documents, but is also a precondition for optimizing documents for small screens or mobile devices. The stored text structures enable dynamic reformatting of the document in the respective browser of the smartphone or tablet, so that the text is always wrapped according to the screen size or font size and horizontal scrolling is not necessary. This means: Accessible documents are also mobile documents. No other PDF format offers this bonus!

Integrating PDF/UA into document processes

In the field of professional document creation and output management, the Series M/ is one of the few PDF/UA-enabled systems on the market. We recommend the overview of the internationally active independent competence center ‘PDF Association’.

The great advantage of the M/ series is its holistic approach to controlling document processes from creation to output completely with a uniform system. This means

  • All structure and format information is already inserted by the system when the documents are generated – without time-consuming post-processing.
  • Depending on the degree of standardization of the application, content descriptions, alternative texts for graphics etc. can also be created automatically via metadata. In addition, the system can call up user dialogs under data control.
  • The Series M/ offers all the necessary processes and tools to make the document process as efficient as possible.
  • At the end of the creation process, the documents contain all necessary metadata and are forwarded directly to the output management M/OMS for further processing without any further conversion or post-processing.

kühn & weyh is a member of the PDF Association . In addition to the PDF family (PDF/UA, PDF/A, PDF/VT, ZUGFeRD, fillable PDF), the M/ series offers any other output formats such as HTML, XML, AFP, PCL, Postscript and graphic formats such as TIFF, PNG, SVG etc. – and, of course, efficient processes for successful customer communication in paper and digital form.

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