Here are some tips that can help you get access to text that is shared in online classes.
Why It Matters
People who are unfamiliar with blindness/low vision often assume that any text that is in electronic and/or digital form is automatically accessible. For instance, they may take a picture of a text-filled flyer and assume that a blind/low vision individual can read the text because “It’s digital!”
In reality, this is not the case. While digital documents CAN be accessible, many are just as inaccessible as paper documents are. Screenshots and screenshares are perfect examples of taking accessible information and making it inaccessible.
Distance Learning is Here to Stay
Even though schools and other organizations are beginning to meet in person more, we have reached a point in society at which distance communication tools, like Zoom, have become fixtures as meeting spaces for school, employment, and community organizations, including seminars about special interests.
Zoom, in particular, is a very accessible platform for blind/low vision individuals. However, when an accessible document is screenshared, that document becomes completely inaccessible because it is “rendered to meeting participants as an HD video stream.” (From Zoom’s Accessibility Frequently Asked Questions webpage. This same technology is used in other online meeting platforms.
Thus, for the foreseeable future, individuals who cannot easily access video sharing must find alternative solutions to achieve accessibility.
Potential Solution: Get Accessible Documents Ahead of Time
As noted above, many people, including educators, do not understand how blind/low vision people interact with digital documents. This is a great time for you to teach your teachers!
Let them know that screenshared documents are not accessible. Tell them that you aren’t getting access to the video portion of Zoom – it’s like you are only on the phone. Even if you can see the video a bit, you cannot access it with the ease or the speed of typically-sighted peers.
Next, offer solutions! Explain to them what kind of document works best for you. Examples may include Word documents and PowerPoints instead of printouts that are then scanned in as PDFs. Ask for the documents before the presentation so that you can preview them to help you follow along during the presentation. Share these Word and PowerPoint Accessibility Resources from the MSB TVI Portal Maryland with them, too!
Potential Solution: Make the Inaccessible Accessible
While it is best to get accessible versions of documents being shared, you might not get them. What to do then?
Screen-sharing isn’t accessible, and neither are screenshots – until YOU make them accessible! When you do not receive accessible versions of screenshared documents ahead of the presentation, there are tools you can use to TAKE CONTROL and get ACCESS to the text on the screenshare!
Freedom Scientific software provides a great tool for this purpose: Convenient Optical Character Recognition (Convenient OCR). You can use Convenient OCR with files (such as PDFs and images), but you can also use it “on the fly” to capture screenshared information DURING a distance video presentation.
Take Control of the Screen in Real-time
Here’s how to use Convenient OCR to access text on an inaccessible screen:
- For best results, use the “Full Screen” option to display the screenshare you wish to access.
- Run Convenient OCR by using the following layered commands:
- 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 S (to OCR the screen – you’ll hear JAWS announce “OCR started using Omnipage; Finished; JAWS cursor”)
- Now that JAWS has performed OCR on the screen, you can access the information by using typical JAWS reading commands (such as JAWS key plus down arrow)
Note: Convenient OCR leaves you with the JAWS cursor. JAWS will begin reading wherever your JAWS cursor is, even if it is not at the top of the page. For this reason, you may need to arrow up to get to the top of the page.
Note: If you tab away from the screen where you have performed Convenient OCR, the OCR is lost. When you go back, you’ll need to use Convenient OCR again (JAWS key plus spacebar; O; S).
Distance Presentations are Only the Beginning!
Optical Character Recognition tools like Convenient OCR offer you the power to use your computer to access inaccessible text both independently and efficiently. Even more: you can save that now-accessible text to access (and edit) later.
Of course, the availability of OCR does not diminish the value of accessible documents. OCR is good, but it’s not perfect, and OCR doesn’t necessarily give you information about headings and text structure. Moreover, with OCR, you are having to capture and convert the documents during the presentation – which interferes with your ability to pay attention to the presentation itself. Nevertheless, Convenient OCR can be a valuable tool in your toolbox, and you could use it in other ways, such as on inaccessible websites and text on YouTube videos.
Practice Early, and Let Us Help
Using Convenient OCR and other OCR software can be quite empowering, but it’s no fun to have to practice new skills in real time. Please call on us here at the Free Bridges Helpdesk to help!
Contact us, and we’ll set up a time that’s convenient for you to talk about OCR and other tools and to practice using them. We can set up a Zoom session where you can practice capturing screenshared text with us supporting you every step of the way. Remember, all Bridges Helpdesk help is private and confidential, and we are here for you.
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
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.
Updated as of September 17, 2023.