Accessibility Features in Acrobat Reader 7
- Read Out Loud Feature
- Other Accessibility Features
- Customizing Adobe Reader 7
Not everyone creates PDF (Portable Document Format) files, but almost everyone who uses the web uses Adobe Acrobat Reader to read PDFs. This is the program that allows you to view PDF files on the web and on your computer. Unfortunately, PDF files have not always been as accessible as they are now. In the past, Adobe PDF files could be very inaccessible, especially to people using screen readers.
This began to change with Acrobat 5, when Adobe introduced the ability to tag PDF files for accessibility. Although PDF tags could not be manipulated as easily HTML tags, they made the content more accessible to some users with screen readers. With the advent of Acrobat Reader 6 (full version), Adobe embedded a scaled-down screen reader into the Reader software itself. This scaled-down screen reader (more accurately referred to as a text-to-speech synthesizer) can read aloud the text in nearly all PDF files, even older files that were not created with accessibility in mind.
Adobe Reader 7 continues to improve the user's accessibility to PDF files. You are able to customize your preferences more than ever. This article will provide a step-by-step overview of most prominent accessibility features of Adobe Reader 7, including improved control over user preferences and new accessibility settings.
Before you start
Consider downloading Adobe Reader 7, even if you do not plan on using its accessibility features. Version 7 is an improvement over version 6 in many ways, and this article will be much more helpful if you can follow along with the newest version of Adobe Reader. As with all Adobe Readers, version 7 is a free download. Download Adobe Reader 7 - external link
- Make sure the checkbox that reads remains selected. If you do not have the full version of Reader 7, you will not have the accessibility features covered in this article.
- During installation, you may be asked if you want to install Yahoo Toolbar and Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition. Unless you want to install these programs, make sure they are de-selected.
Read Out Loud Feature
The Read Out Loud feature can definitely make some PDF files more accessible to people who are unable to access a PDF with their regular screen reader. It may also be useful for individuals who do not use a screen reader, but who still would benefit from having a PDF read out loud. For example, a person with certain cognitive disabilities might benefit from reading and hearing information. It may also give developers an idea of how a PDF would be read by a full-featured screen reader. Read Out Loud is a wonderful feature, but some words of caution are in order:
- Some people are still using version 5 or earlier of Acrobat Reader.
- Not everyone who is using version 6 or 7 has the full version with the embedded speech synthesizer.
- The embedded speech synthesizer is not as full-featured as the screen readers that most people use (i.e. JAWS - external link, Window Eyes - external link).
- Not everyone is aware that the speech synthesizer exists in Acrobat Reader (even users who are blind).
- Users who know that the speech synthesizer exists may not know how to use it. They must learn new keyboard shortcuts and methods of reading PDF files.
- If the PDF document isn't created with accessibility in mind, it will likely pose significant accessibility challenges to blind users (e.g. images without alternative text will still be inaccessible).
To enable the Read Out Loud feature, Selectand then select one of the options listed in the table below. The shortcut keys for these options are also listed in the table.
|Read This Page Only||Ctrl + Shift + V|
|Read To End of Document||Ctrl + Shift + B|
|Pause/Resume||Ctrl + Shift + C|
|Stop||Ctrl + Shift + E|
To change the default Read Out Loud attributes, choosefrom the list of categories on the left side of the window.
From here you can change several important attributes:
- Voice. The default is Microsoft Sam, which is is a very "robotic" voice, so any other voice is probably better.
- Speed. This is one setting that screen reader users will probably want to increase significantly.
- Read form fields. This is an important setting. By default
it is not selected, so unless you select this option,
Read Out Loud will skip any form fields it encounters.
- To navigate from field to field, use Tab to move forward and Shift + Tab to move backward.
- The text entered in the field is not read as it is typed, but it is read when the user leaves the field.
Other Accessibility Features
Accessibility quick check
The Accessibility Quick Check cannot always correctly identify whether a PDF is accessible or not, but it can alert the user whether the PDF is tagged or not or if there are glaring accessibility errors.
To run the quick check, choose Ctrl
+ Shift + 6.
You will usually see a window that reads "No accessibility problems
were detected in this quick check". Please remember that the quick
check can only detect the presence of tags, not their quality. It is possible
for an inaccessible PDF to
pass this check. If there are no tags present, the message reads "This
document is not structured so the reading order may not be correct. Try
different reading orders using the Reading Preferences panel." There
are other messages, like an alert if there is missing
but these are the two messages that usually appear.
Reflow is more than just an accessibility feature. It is also useful for people who use handheld devices or other devices that have small screens. There are two main advantages to reflowing a document.
- It eliminates the need for horizontal scrolling.
- It changes the reading order to reflect either the order of the PDF tags or, if the document is untagged, tries to infer the correct reading order. Although this is usually an advantage, the reading order in Reflow view can sometimes be more confusing, especially if it has multiple columns or complex tables.
Reflow can be a very helpful feature, especially for people who need to enlarge the text, either within Acrobat Reader or using an external screen magnifier.
This is a screenshot of a PDF that has been enlarged 400%. Notice how much horizontal scrolling is necessary to view the whole document.
With Reflow enabled, the horizontal scroll bar disappears and all the text can be read within the screen.
To enable reflow, either select Ctrl + 4.or press
A document cannot be saved or printed while it is in Reflow view.
Automatic scrolling might be especially helpful for a person who has a motor disability, or for someone who is using the Reflow feature. Like Read Out Loud, there are several shortcut keys to learn. Luckily, they are pretty intuitive. To enable automatic scrolling, choose Ctrl + Shift + H. The other shortcuts are listed in the table below.or press
|Start/stop||Ctrl + Shift + H|
|Change scrolling speed||Number key 0-9 or Up and Down arrows|
|Change scrolling direction reverse/forward||Hyphen or minus (-) key|
|Previous/next page||Left or right arrow key|
Save as (accessible) text
You can save a PDF as plain text which can then be printed as braille. As with other accessibility features, this only works if the reading order is clear and if there are no complex tables. For example, the following is a screenshot from the last page of a PDF file from Adobe on accessible features of Acrobat 7. It may be helpful to open this PDF from the Adobe site - external link or view an accessible HTML version of the table in the screenshot.
The screenshot shows a table. The first column of the table lists accessibility features of Acrobat 7, and each of the subsequent columns lists whether a feature is available in a certain Acrobat 7 product (Reader, Standard, Professional etc.). If the feature is available, it is marked with an X. If it is not available, the cell is empty.
This same table, saved as "accessible" text, reads like this:
CREATING ACCESSIBLE ADOBE PDF FILES FEATURE ADOBE READER 7.0 ACROBAT 7.0 STANDARD ACROBAT 7.0 PROFESSIONAL WINDOWS MAC OS X Create tagged Adobe PDF files from Microsoft Office applications X X X Add security while retaining accessibility X X X X Convert existing Adobe PDF documents to tagged Adobe PDF files X X X X
This example raises a larger issue—the proper use of PDF documents. If this table were available in accessible HTML, then a person using a refreshable braille device would still be able to navigate the table. As a PDF, it may or may not be accessible, depending on the user's configuration. That is why it is still a good idea to use an HTML file on the web instead of or in addition to a PDF file.
Customizing Adobe Reader 7
There are several default settings that a user can change to improve the native accessibility of Acrobat Reader. The following sections lists these.
Accessibility setup assistant
Although some of the features listed in this section have been available in previous versions of Acrobat Reader, it has been difficult to configure Reader for accessibility before now. This is because changes to settings had to be made in several places. The Accessibility Setup Assistant allows the user to make these changes in one place. This is one of the best new features in Reader 7.
To run the setup assistant choose. This will open a new window.
From this point, the user has a couple of choices to make. First, there are three radio buttons to choose from.
It seems like choosing one of the first two radio buttons might help you better configure Adobe Reader if you use a screen reader or screen magnifier, but these actually limit your choices. For example, a screen reader user who selects theradio button will never be given the chance to choose a high-contrast color scheme or set the default screen enlargement, but there are many screen reader users who might benefit from these features. It is probably best to select .
Next, the user has an option to select. Even though this sounds tempting, it is probably best to make these changes manually. The point of the Assistant is to help you customize your preferences, and you should know what those changes are.
Not all of the accessibility features are present in this assistant. For example, there is no option to enable Reflow by default or to adjust settings for Read Out Loud. Some other options, such as changing the default color scheme, are much more limited in the accessibility assistant than they are in themenu.
High contrast color
Reader can substitute a custom color for the text and background in place of the default colors.
In the Accessibility Setup Assistant, you can choose green, yellow or white text on a black background as well as white text on a black background.
For more options, choosefrom the menu on the left side of the window. If you check the box labeled you then have several options for color schemes:
- Use Windows color scheme. If you have a special color scheme for your computer already, this is probably the best option.
- Use High-contrast color combination. Just like in the Accessibility Setup Assistant, you can choose green, yellow or white text on a black background as well as white text on a black background.
- Custom color. You can select any color.
There are also two additional features which can be enabled or disabled:
Disable text smoothing
By default, Acrobat Reader smoothes text. Disabling text smoothing can make it easier to read when it is enlarged, especially with a screen magnifier.
In the Accessibility Setup Assistant, you can check.
For more options, choosefrom the menu on the left side of the window. You can then select or de-select , or .
Default display zoom
The default display zoom can be set from 8.33% to 6400%.
- In the Accessibility Setup Assistant, choose a value from the dropdown list next to or enter a custom value in the field.
- In there is a section labeled . Under this section you can change the default zoom and the maximum zoom available.
Keyboard selection cursor
The Hand Tool is usually the default pointer while hovering over a PDF, but you can make the Select Tool the default pointer instead. The Select Tool allows you to highlight text and other elements both with the mouse and with the keyboard.
This change can be made by selectingin the Accessibility Setup Assistant or by selecting and then checking at the bottom of the window. When you check this option, a blinking cursor will be visible in the body of the PDF and it can be moved with the keyboard.
Normally, Acrobat tries to guess the best reading order for a document, but there are times when the default reading order is incorrect. If this occurs, you can try to change the reading order of a document by selecting, or you can use the Accessibility Setup Assistant. There are two main changes that can be made to the reading order of a document:
- Reading Order. There are three options.
- Infer reading order from document. Leaving this as the default setting will almost always produce the best reading order.
- Left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading order. Every word will be read in this order, even if it is divided into columns, or there is a sidebar. Selecting this option seldom helps because reading order problems usually occur when the PDF is already being read left to right instead of some other way.
- Use reading order in raw print stream. This reflects the order of the original document converted into the PDF.
- Override the reading order in tagged documents. If a document is incorrectly tagged, the reading order might be incorrect. Selecting this option will disable the tagged reading order and Adobe Reader will try to infer a better reading order. You should probably leave this unchecked, because the reading order of a tagged document should usually be better than the order inferred by Adobe Reader. Check this box if it is necessary for a specific document and then de-select it when you close the document.
Disable auto save
Auto save can cause a file to reload, causing confusion, particularly for screen reader users. To disable auto save do one of the following:
- Select in the Accessibility Setup Assistant
- De-select in .
Display in a new window
You can choose whether to open Acrobat Reader within the browser or whether to launch the program externally. Some users, especially screen reader users, may prefer to open the program in a separate program. It is easier to access certain features like Read Out Loud and auto-scrolling in a separate window.
In the Accessibility Setup Assistant, de-select. Or choose from the menu on the left side of the window and de-select .
As the PDF format matures, Adobe keeps adding new features like fillable forms and embedded multimedia. Although this seems to defy the main purpose of a PDF (which is to preserve the layout of a document intended for print), multimedia will probably become more common in PDF files. As this occurs, accessibility considerations become necessary for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
The Accessibility Setup Assistant, while valuable, really only addresses the needs of people using screen readers or screen magnifiers. Even though multimedia options are not addressed at all in the assistant, there are some accessibility options under.
The following options are available. Unfortunately, none of them are selected by default.
You can also change the default media player and preferred language in this section.
Adobe Reader 7 helps make PDF files more accessible than they have ever been. If a person with a disability knows how to edit user preferences and remembers how to use special features, then he or she may be able to access previously inaccessible PDF files.
But just because a person with a disability can configure Adobe
Reader to make it more accessible does not mean he or she will. The author of a PDF still has a responsibility to make the file accessible. There are some things Adobe
Reader cannot compensate for, like missing
alt text. Both the author and the reader still need to do their part to make a PDF file truly accessible.