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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Accessing and Creating Accessible PDF files

The Portable Document Format (PDF) was created to allow designers to share content with formatting intact. Unfortunately, at the beginning, the features that allowed a PDF to look a certain way, also tended to prevent users from accessing the content with Assistive Technology. To combat this problem, Adobe worked to improve the accessibility of the PDF by adding features for those who are accessing documents and also adding features for those who are creating documents. Both pieces are vital – content designers must create Adobe files with access in mind. Users need to be aware of tools and techniques for accessing files in ways that are most efficient for them as individuals.

Creating Accessible Documents

Adobe PDF files are created by scanning a printed page or creating a PDF from an image file, or converting/Distilling/Combining existing electronic files. Ideally PDF will be created from accessible source files. Some recommendations for assuring source files are accessible is to:

  • Use headings (don’t just change font size)
  • Use tables appropriately (for data– use columns for layout)
  • Avoid text boxes
  • Add alt tags to images

Document Conversion

  • Use the Acrobat tool installed within the source application were possible. (Acrobat 8 and above will install a conversion tool in most office type applications on installation.)
  • Assure that the convert document info, add links, enable accessibility and allow reflow, etc. are enabled in Acrobat.

If scanned document images are being converted to PDFs, then additional steps are may be required to make the file accessible. When creating the PDF document:

  1. Open the document image in Acrobat
  2. Run OCR by clicking on Advanced>Recognize Text Using OCR
  3. Add tags to images, tables, etc
  4. Touch up reading order by clicking on Go to Advanced>Accessibility>Touch Up, then click on Show Order Panel

To improve accessibility of a PDF file:

  1. Evaluate the original document
    • If it is created from another document – does that document have structural tags?
    • If it is created from an image – has OCR (Optical Character Recognition) been run
  2. Run the accessibility check
    1. Open the document in Acrobat
    2. Go to Advanced>Accessibility>Quick Check (Ctrl+Shift+6)
  3. Make repairs as needed
    • Some repairs are best made in the source document if possible (tags, headings, etc)
    • Sometimes settings need to be changed prior to conversion to PDF
    • Some changes must be made in Adobe (touch up reading order, document language, etc)
  4. Run the accessibility check after making repairs to ensure that no problems are found

Using Acrobat Accessibility Features

Users must have the free Adobe Reader program to access a PDF file. Within Adobe Reader a user can then make use of several convenient features to improve access to the content assuming the PDF was created with accessibility in mind in the first place.

Adobe Reader can read text out loud

  1. Make sure the document contains text to be read
  2. Go to the View pull-down menu
  3. Choose Read Out Loud
Activate Read Out Loud Shift + Ctrl + Y
Read Page Shift + Ctrl + V
Read Document Shift + Ctrl + B
Pause Shift + Ctrl + C
Stop Shift + Ctrl + E

Adobe will read in a choice of voices

  • Go to the Edit menu and select Preferences or use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl +K)
  • Select Reading
  • Uncheck "Use Default Voice"
  • Select voice of choice (additional voices can be acquired from a variety of sources and loaded onto your computer)

Adobe can read at faster and slower rates

  • Go to the Edit menu and select Preferences or use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl +K)
  • Select Reading
  • Uncheck "Use Default Speech Attributes"
  • Adjust the Rate of speech

Adobe has reading order options

  • Go to the Edit menu and select Preferences or use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl +K)
  • Select Reading
  • Click on the "Reading Order:" drop down arrow. hen click on your preferred reading order.
    • Tagged documents afford the best reading
    • "Infer reading order from document" works well but can be slower

Adobe lets users replace document colors

  • Go to the Edit menu and select Preferences or use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl +K)
  • Select Accessibility
  • Check "Replace Document Colors"
  • Next select the options that will make reading the document on screen easier. Note: this does not change the original document and setting will only be valid for the computer on which they are set.

Adobe also has a reflow option

Click the [Control] and [4] keys to turn the reflow option on. This will eliminate Horizontal Scrolling when text size is increased and is also useful for magnification or small handheld devices.

Adobe has and automatic scrolling feature. To turn it on:

  • Click the [Control], [Shift] and [H] keys to start and stop scrolling
  • Click the Arrow up and down keys to slow down and speed up the scrolling

Other Assistive Software

Free screenreading alternatives

  • NVDA – NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free and open source screen reader for the Microsoft Windows operating system offering synthetic speech and Braille with multi language support and the ability to run entirely from a USB drive.
  • System Access to Go – Online screenreader, free, available from any Internet-connected Windows machine
  • Thunder – Thunder is award-winning free screenreader talking software for people with little or no sight. It works well with Windows 7, Vista or XP.
  • Web Anywhere – WebAnywhere is a web-based screen reader for the web. It requires no special software to be installed on the client machine and, therefore, enables blind people to access the web from any computer that has a sound card.

Text based browsers and screenreader emulators

  • Fangs – This Mozilla Firefox extension creates a textual representation of a web page similar to how the page would be read by a modern screen reader.
  • FireVox – Fire Vox is an open source, freely available talking browser extension for the Firefox web browser. Think of it as a screen reader that is designed especially for Firefox. In addition to the basic features that are expected of screen readers, such as being able to identify headings, links, images, etc. and providing navigational assistance, Fire Vox provides support for MathML and CSS speech module properties. It also works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.
  • Lynx – Lynx is a fully-featured World Wide Web (WWW) client for users running cursor-addressable, character-cell display devices (e.g., vt100 terminals, vt100 emulators running on PCs or Macs, or any other character-cell display).

Filereading options

  • Balabolka – Balabolka is a Text-To-Speech (TTS) program. All computer voices installed on your system are available to Balabolka. The on-screen text can be saved as a WAV, MP3, OGG or WMA file. The program can read the clipboard content, view the text from DOC, RTF, PDF, ODT, FB2 and HTML files, customize font and background colour, control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys. Balabolka uses various versions of Microsoft Speech API (SAPI); it allows to alter a voice’s parameters, including rate and pitch. The user can apply a special substitution list to improve the quality of the voice’s articulation.
  • Read Please – ReadPlease 2003 (Free Edition) offers full support for all Microsoft voices, reads text via Windows clipboard from any program, Adjustable voice speed (rate) and more…
  • CliCk Speak (firefox add-on) – CLiCk, Speak is designed for sighted users who want text-to-speech functionality. It has a simplified, mouse driven interface that is designed to be easy for users familiar with point-and-click graphical user interfaces. It works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux; and Fire Vox has multilingual support, making it great for users who are trying to learn a foreign language and need to hear foreign language web sites read out to them for practice.
  • Power Talk – PowerTalk is a free program that automatically speaks any presentation or slide show running in Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows. Speech is provided by the synthesized computer voices that are provided with Windows 7, Vista and XP, and other voices are available. PowerTalk uses PowerPoint supplied with Microsoft Office to show the presentation.
  • Word Talk – A free Windows text-to-speech plugin for Microsoft Word. It will speak the text of the document and will highlight it as it goes. It contains a talking dictionary and a text-to-mp3 converter.

Modified Input Methods

  • Click-N-Type – is a virtual keyboard designed for anyone with a disability that prevents him or her from typing on a physical computer keyboard. So long as the person can control a mouse, trackball or other pointing device, he or she can send keystrokes to virtually any Windows application or DOS application that can run within a DOS window. Click-N-Type is a 32 bit application that requires Windows 95 or later.
  • Let Me Type – LetMeType is word prediction software. Running in the background, it analyzes what you type. After it has collected enough information, it can guess a word after you have typed only the first two or three letters. A list of the most probable words is displayed, and you can select one with a single keystroke or just continue typing. LetMeType allows you to load your own dictionaries and the program will work with most applications, offering completion suggestionsin most any program you happen to be working in.

Display Adjustment tools

  • CLCSTAR (Firefox Add-on) – allows users to easily set up preferences for how they want pages presented to them in Firefox. Features include enlarging images, changing font size, foreground/background color, and style, enhancing the cursor focus indicator, adjusting line and word spacing, disabling stylesheets, and disabling background images.
  • iZoom Web – is an advanced, voicing screen magnifier that loads from a web site. It will only work while you are connected to the Web. It has features that compare with popular commercial products such as ZoomText and MAGic.

Developer Tools for Browsers

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This entry was posted on August 26, 2010 by in Tools.

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