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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Employment Resources Series: Resolutions for Resilience, January 2022

Resolutions for Resilience: Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible

January always ushers in a new year, and many take the opportunity to develop New Year’s Resolutions during this month. While Resolutions can take many forms (including diet, exercise, etc.), the Free Bridges Helpdesk offers some tips for helping you get the access you need with Resolutions for Resilience.

  • Coaching Your Teachers on Accessibility
  • Controlling the Chat in Online Classes
  • Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screen-shares Accessible
  • Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible

In this fourth installment of our “Resolutions for Resilience” series, we share some tips to help you access text on inaccessible PDFs.

Why It Matters

PDFs are everywhere; PDF accessibility is not. To complicate matters, the ability of PDFs to be accessible is widely misunderstood; some have the mistaken belief that PDFs cannot be made to be accessible for blind individuals and thus prevent blind students from having the opportunity to learn how to interact with accessible PDFs and how to remediate inaccessible PDFs.

Navigating PDFs

Even if a PDF is accessible, you need to know how to use your accessible assistive technology to access it efficiently. Here is a quick “cheat sheet” from Freedom Scientific, the creator of JAWS screen reading software, to get you started: Prevent Document Frustration: JAWS and PDFs Guide, and check out Elizabeth Whitaker’s APH Access Academy presentation Prevent Document Frustration JAWS and PDFs. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk with any questions.

Accessing Text on Inaccessible PDFs

Often, when a PDF is inaccessible, it has been saved as a graphic. Even though text might appear on the screen, the screen is actually showing a PICTURE of text. The computer only recognizes the picture; it cannot recognize the text.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can be the answer to this problem. As its name implies, OCR software scans the picture and attempts to recognize portions of the picture as alphabetical or numerical characters (letters or numbers). As discussed in last week’s Bridges Blog post, “Resolutions for Resilience: Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screen-shares Accessible,” the widely-used screen reading software JAWS has built-in OCR capabilities with its tool called Convenient OCR.

OCR Inaccessible PDFs

Sometimes people share PDFs that they have scanned into the computer as image files. Many times, they might not realize what they have done; they are just using the default settings of their scanners. Convenient OCR is a great tool to provide you immediate access to these PDFs! Here are the steps to perform this Inaccessible PDF Hack:

  • Open the PDF and use Convenient OCR:
    • JAWS key and spacebar at the same time (you’ll hear JAWS announce “space”)
    • Then the letter O (you’ll hear JAWS announce “O; OCR”)
    • Then the letter D (you’ll hear JAWS announce “Document OCR started”)
  • JAWS will open up another window that contains the text from the inaccessible PDF and will begin reading it.
    • In that new window, there is a link called “Open in Word…” You can quickly navigate to that link by:
      • Type “U” for unvisited link
      • Use JAWS key plus F7 to display Links list
      • Tab to the “Open in Word…” link
    • Open the link, and you have a new Word document with accessible text from the PDF.
  • Name and save the file, and you now have access to that text anytime you want!

OCR Saved Screen-shares

Screen-shares are a perfect example of an inaccessible PDF.

Last week’s blog discussed using Convenient OCR to access screen-shared text in real-time, but you might also want to save the screen-shared information for later reference. To do this, you can take screenshots during the presentation, save them, and use OCR on them after the presentation to create your own accessible document. Here are some steps that can make this process easier:

  • First, open a blank Word document and give it a name. This document will be the place you store all of your screenshots.
  • When you want to capture a screen during the presentation, take a screenshot. Most laptops have keys or key combinations to perform this function. When you take a screenshot, the image will automatically be saved to your clipboard.
  • Tab over to that blank Word document and paste your screenshot (Control plus V is the paste command). Save the document (F12 or Control plus S), and jump back to the shared screen.
  • Continue taking screenshots, pasting them into your new Word document, and saving the updated document.
  • At the end, save as a Word document AND save as a PDF (F12, then change document type to PDF).
  • Open the PDF and use Convenient OCR:
    • JAWS key and spacebar at the same time (you’ll hear JAWS announce “space”)
    • Then the letter O (you’ll hear JAWS announce “O; OCR”)
    • Then the letter D (you’ll hear JAWS announce “Document OCR started”)
  • JAWS will open up another window that contains the text from the inaccessible PDF and will begin reading it.
    • In that new window, there is a link called “Open in Word…” You can quickly navigate to that link by:
      • Type “U” for unvisited link
      • Use JAWS key plus F7 to display Links list
      • Tab to the “Open in Word…” link
    • Open the link, and you have a new Word document with accessible text from the PDF.
  • Name and save the file, and you now have access to that text anytime you want!

Note: Convenient OCR “is only available in JAWS and Zoomtext Fusion, it is not available in Zoomtext Screen Magnifier” and it “requires an active internet connection.” From New Features of JAWS and Zoomtext Fusion 2021.

Continue Advocating for Accessible Documents

Tools like Convenient OCR are great, but they are not perfect. Convenient OCR provides you text, but it cannot create headings or other text features (including tables). Also, poor-quality PDFs may keep Convenient OCR from providing you accurate text, and, while Convenient OCR is quick, it does take a bit of time to perform.

Know that there are federal laws that require most schools and businesses to provide “reasonable accommodations” that you request, and accessible files (whether PDFs, Word, or PowerPoint) are examples of reasonable accommodations.

The Free Bridges Helpdesk is here to help with you what you need, whether it’s technical help, advocacy, or anything else. Remember, all Bridges Helpdesk help is private and confidential, and we are here for you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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