(Duff Johnson gave this testimony at the US Access Board’s public hearing in Washington DC on May 12, 2010)
Mr. Chairman, members of the U.S. Access Board, it is an honor to be here today to discuss the refresh of Section 508 as it pertains to the PDF file-format. I am here to offer my support for the adoption of PDF/UA in the revised ICT Standards and Guidelines as the standard for accessible PDF.
Adobe Systems invented the Portable Document Format known as PDF. The technology is widely used in government and business because PDF delivers a reliable viewing and printing experience across multiple computing platforms
The electronic equivalent of paper, PDF is a final-form medium for official or formal content. That’s probably why the very first PDF file was an IRS Form 1040.
The PDF format is no longer owned or controlled by Adobe Systems. Today it is entirely managed by the international standards process as ISO 32000.
PDF and Accessibility
Today, PDF is the dominant electronic document format, with websites, servers and individual computers around the world replete with PDF files. But when it comes to accessibility, PDF has a checkered past. Prior to 2000, there was literally no way to make an accessible PDF file. The semantic structures necessary to build up words from characters, lines from words, and paragraphs from lines, simply didn’t exist in PDF.
When Adobe Systems released Acrobat 5.0, for the first time it became possible to structure and tag PDF files. This was an important innovation because tagged PDFs are capable of delivering text and other content in correct reading-order. In a tagged PDF, logical structures such as headings, lists, tables and form-fields are available to assistive technology.
PDF is internally complex, and the format’s capabilities are both broad and deep. As such, it’s been a time-consuming challenge to set clear standards for making PDF documents and forms accessible.
ISO/CD 14289 (PDF/UA)
AIIM, the industry association for electronic content management, oversees the representation of U.S. interests in International Standards for electronic content at the ISO level.
AIIM began the PDF/Universal Accessibility standards project (now ISO/CD 14289) in 2004 to establish norms for accessible PDF files. PDF/UA is fairly regarded as the PDF-specific implementation of WCAG 2.0. PDF files that comply with PDF/UA will also comply with WCAG 2.0.
The PDF/UA Committees are open to any interested observers or participants. Both Adobe Systems and Microsoft are represented on both the US and International PDF/UA committees. A number of other software developers, non-profit organizations and individuals have participated in these committees over time.
PDF/UA’s focus is on the PDF file and conforming Reader technologies. As such, the bulk of the Standard is devoted to technical criteria of interest primarily to application developers.
The Standard details obligations for both the software developer and the content author, but in relatively spare, technical language.
Thus, the PDF/UA committees are writing an Implementation Guide for end-users who are producing accessible PDF documents and forms. The Guide will make PDF/UA easier to understand and help software-developers create conforming applications.
Future of PDF/UA
The current schedule should get ISO/CD 14289 to a Draft International Standard in late 2010 or early 2011, with formal publication likely approximately a year thereafter.
Several national standards bodies have expressed interest in PDF/UA including the British Standards Institution and German DIN. Organizations such as the American Foundation for the Blind and the DAISY Consortium are also following the Committee’s efforts.
I am here today to urge this Board to adopt PDF/UA as the standard for accessible PDF.
The establishment of a normative basis for accessible PDF via ISO 14289 will improve accessibility of information technology and electronic content, improving access to information for all. Thank you for this opportunity to update you on progress towards an international standard for accessible PDF.