Reading Accessible PDFs

Note to our non-screen reader friends, here’s a little side tip for you (and for anyone else who is interested). By pressing Windows + Period, you can bring up the Windows 10 emoji window where you may select and enter emojis in almost any text field within Windows. And they can be described by a screen reader also!

The rest of this week’s tip, as promised, will focus on accessing PDFs with a screen readers and highlight settings that will help with document navigation. Please note that this is a rather long tip, so you may want to navigate it y heading to get to the most relevant parts for you.

Review: Setting your Default Apps by File Type

A few weeks ago, the accessibility tip shared how to set your default app by file type with the example of making sure PDF files open in Adobe. As a review, here are those steps:

Before you start, please make sure the file is saved on your computer.

  1. With the file selected in Windows Explorer, press Shift + F10 to open the context menu (or you may need to press Function + Shift + F10 if your computer is set up to need the function key added to make the function keys work). This is the same as right clicking on the file.

  2. Arrow down to Open With… You can also press H to jump directly there and open the submenu.

  3. Arrow down to Choose Another App, even if you see the app you want to use listed in

  4. In the dialogue that opens, press Tab to navigate to the selection area

  5. I want my PDF files to always open in Adobe, so I will arrow down to adobe

  6. Press Tab again to navigate to the “Always use this App to Open .PDF Files” checkbox and press a space bar to check it.

  7. Press Tab one more time to reach the OK button and press Enter or Space.

When Opening Adobe: The Reading Untagged Documents Dialogue

Often when a PDF is opened in Adobe while running JAWS, ZoomText, or another piece of assistive technology, Adobe will usually open a Reading Untagged Document with Assistive Technology dialogue box you can navigate through using the Tab Key. This box will usually appear when Adobe detects any AT in use and if the document you are opening is untagged. This means a specific reading order for the PDF was not identified when creating it.

Below are the three areas of this dialogue, what the control element is, and what the setting should be for the document to be read successfully. When finished, press Tab until you hear the button labeled “start” or “cancel” if you prefer to move forward without running the dialogue.

    • Reading Order: This is a drop down. Choose “Infer Reading Order from Document (Recommended)” from the options.

    • Reading Mode: There are two radio buttons. Make sure to select the one entitled “Read Entire Document”

    • The last element is a checkbox that says “do not show this dialogue again. Use settings from the reading preferences”. It is recommended you leave it unchecked the first few times you open a document to ensure you encounter no errors, but you can check the box when you feel the dialogue popping up is more of a hinderance than a help.

Once you have selected the “start” button, a progress bar will open indicating the document is processing. Unless the document is unusually long, it will take less than thirty seconds for that dialogue to close.

Reading Options

To manually change how Adobe handles documents, open Reading Options by pressing Control + Shift + 5 on the Number Row or find it in the menus using the following steps:

    • Open the Edit Menu by pressing Alt + E

    • Either press Y to jump down to Accessibility or use arrow keys and press Enter the submenu, select Change Reading Options and press Enter.

    • Note this opens the same dialogue described above. Use Tab to navigate the dialogue as you normally would and select the options indicated in the section above.

Accessibility Setup Assistant

You can run the Accessibility Setup Assistant anytime from the Edit Menu:

    • Open the Edit Menu by pressing Alt + E

    • Either press Y to jump down to Accessibility or use arrow keys

    • In the submenu, select Setup Assistant and press Enter.

The First Panel

The first screen in the Setup Assistant Dialogue explains that this assistant will help you set up how Adobe interacts with assistive technology. To read the text of the dialogue with your screen reader, press Insert + B. If you are running NVDA, the screen reader will automatically read the introduction in the dialogue, but JAWS may need to be prompted to do so with Insert + B. Use the Tab Key to navigate to each area.

Also on the first panel screen, you can choose which assistive technology you’d like to set up with Adobe. Though you can specify whether you are using a screen reader or magnification software, these instructions will go through the steps presented when you choose the third option, which is “Set All Accessibility Options”. In this setting, there are five panels total. Tab to the Next Button and select it to continue setting options manually.

Note: There is a button labeled “Use Recommended Settings and Skip Setup” above the Next Button. You may choose this option instead of manually setting each option. If you find that your documents are not reading correctly, you may need to return to this area and manually set your options. Again, to continue setting up options manually, press Tab until you hear the Next Button and activate it.

The Second Panel

Assuming you chose to set up all accessibility options as recommended, the second panel has the following options:

    • A checkbox entitled “use high contrast options for document text”. Check or uncheck this box using the space bar

    • If the above checkbox is selected, the next item is a combo box which allows you to choose your preferred high contrast color combination.

    • You may choose the field highlight color from this combo box using the arrow keys. The default is Light Blue

    • You may choose the required field highlight color from this combo box. The default is Light red.

    • You may select the “disable text smoothing” by checking the box with the Spacebar. Note that checking this box is not recommended.

    • You may disable the “always display the keyboard selection cursor” by unchecking the box using the Spacebar. Note that unchecking this box is not recommended.

    • Use the tab keys to navigate to the Next Button to continue to the next pane or simply press Enter

The Third Panel

    • The third panel contains three options. Remember, to read the text of the dialogue with your screen reader, press Insert + B. Use the Tab Key to navigate to each area.

    • The first setting allows you to select how Adobe handles untagged documents and presents you with three options. It is recommended you choose the first option, which is “infer reading order from document”.

        • If later you find the document is not reading correctly, you may wish to go back and change this setting to one of the other options to see if that works better.

    • A checkbox allowing the user to skip reading order in tagged documents can be checked or unchecked using the Spacebar. It is recommended that this box remain unchecked.

    • The final item is a checkbox that would ask Adobe to confirm settings used to tag documents. Most users either cannot or do not use this option, so leaving the box checked is recommended.

    • Use the tab keys to navigate to the Next Button to continue to the next pane or simply press Enter

The Fourth Panel

This screen shows three different options for how pages are presented

    • This are presents three options for how the screen reader processes your document. This tends to be highly individualized and depends both on the user and on the size of the document. The general recommendation is to choose to read only the currently visible pages, but if you find that you either cannot get to the next page automatically or for some reason your screen reader does not jump to the next page automatically, you may need to change the setting. The three options are:

        • Only read currently visible pages – This setting tends to process one page at once, especially in a large document.

        • Read the entire document at once

        • For large documents, only read the currently visible pages

            • If you select this option and press Tab, you can enter the number of pages a document must contain to be considered a “large document” by Adobe. The default is 50 pages.

    • The next checkbox is “override page layout”. If this checkbox is checked, Adobe will load the chosen layout. Again, if you find that you either cannot get to the next page automatically or for some reason you are having difficulty navigating the document, you may need to change the setting.

        • If you choose to check this box and press Tab, you can choose the layout that Adobe will load. The default setting is “Single page”.

    • The final option to “override document zoom”. By default, this checkbox is unchecked. However, if you do check the box you can override how the document appears visually. This can affect how screen readers and magnifiers manage the document.

        • If you do choose to check this box and press Tab, you can choose the document zoom. There are a variety of options to choose from. The default is “fit page” but you may choose from the many other options if your document is not reading correctly.

    • Use the tab keys to navigate to the Next Button to continue to the next pane or simply press Enter

The Fifth Panel

The fifth and final panel has two checkboxes, both of which are checked by default.

  • The first checkbox is “disable document auto save”. This will disable the autosave of the document as you read through it. Autosaving can take time to process and if this feature is turned off, there is no extra time spent that can slow down your screen reader. This is particularly helpful with larger documents. It is recommended to leave this box checked.

  • The second checkbox is related to the above setting and is titled “reopen document to the last viewed page”. Again, it is recommended that this box remain checked.

  • Use the tab keys to navigate to the Done Button or simply press Enter. This saves changes. Remember that at any time you can press escape to exit the dialogue without saving changes.

Key Takeaways and Helpful Key Commands

    • If for some reason Adobe will not read your document correctly, try changing the Reading Options or running the Accessibility Setup Assistant

    • Insert + B will read the text of any dialogue

    • Page Up/Down – navigate to previous and next pages in the document

    • Control + Home – Navigates to the top of the document

    • Control + End – Navigates to the bottom of the document

    • Shift + Control + N – Opens a “go to page’ dialogue where you may manually enter the page number you’d like to jump to.


Accessing PDFs with Assistive Technology

o Opens in your browser as a downloadable PDF

o This is a thirty page guide to Adobe accessibility

PDF Accessibility Overview

o Opens in your browser as a webpage

o This resource is focused more on creating accessible PDFs rather than reading them with a screen reader

Accessibility Settings and Navigation of a PDF using Adobe

o Opens in your browser as a webpage

o Contains useful information on navigation of the document from a screen reader user’s perspective

o Provides guidance on downloading Adobe and additional information on the accessibility preferences outlined in this document.