Books for All: improving accessibility to curricular materials for print disabled pupils: Using PDFs

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This clip outlines how PDF format can be used to assist reading and accessing texts. The Adobe Reader and PDF Aloud software is used to demonstrate the text-to-speech facility and navigation through the text as well as changes to font size and type, all of which greatly increase the accessibility for print disabled pupils.


Using PDFs

Paul Nisbet, CALL Scotland: In this clip we’re going to look at reading and accessing some materials in PDF format. We’ll first look at a novel, then a text book.

This is “Ostrich Boys” in PDF, an electronic file. It’s got structure which means we can navigate around, so if you wanted to go to Part 2, you can click on that and it will open it up and get rid of the index. We’re reading it in Adobe Reader which is a free program and there are a few things we can do with this to make it a bit more accessible; we can increase the font size, switch it all across the page, use the keyboard to scroll up and down, we can change the colours, make it bigger, we can view two pages at a time so it looks a bit more like a book we can view it on full screen, and we can use the switches to turn the pages instead of the keyboard. The last thing we can do is make this particular book very large, suppose we had a visual difficulty and we needed a font size like that. It’s probably about 36 to 40 point. The problem is that to read the page we’ve got to scroll left and right which is difficult to keep your place when doing that. So a neat trick with Acrobat Reader is to go to View, Zoom and Reflow. What will happen is the text will then fit into the size of the screen.

Here we have a Standard Grade Chemistry textbook, so if we’re studying Chapter 3, Atoms and the Periodic Table, we can click on there and it’ll take us straight to it. At this point we’ll introduce the text to speech facility. Essentially, you can have the text read out by the computer; the tool that we are using is called PDF Aloud. You can have it read out by a whole number of programs, some of which are free and some of which can cost a whole lot of money. The one we like to use because of its simplicity is PDF Aloud. One of the things about PDF Aloud is that you can have different voices, depending on which ones you have on your computer. One of the ones we have here is Heather, English, so that’s a Scottish voice, but you can see on my computer I’ve got a number of other voices.

As well as reading it and listening to it, when reading a textbook like this, it’s good practice to think and make notes as you go, we have a facility with Adobe Reader where you can do just that. Supposing I might want to highlight key points, I can do that. I can also label things, like pointing at a picture. Or we could write notes in the corner.

We’ve seen examples of how PDF books can be accessible for quite a large number of pupils, but it’s important to remember that PDF is not the only digital format and that some PDF’s can be completely inaccessible to some people, particularly blind users who cannot see the text on screen.


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