Learning to Make Documents Accessible with OCR Software

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Accessibility in the digital age can be difficult for people to understand, especially given the sheer amount of ways to present information on the computer. However, creating content that is accessible to all individuals should be a priority for researchers. Creating accessible documents is an easy process, and the Scholarly Commons has the software you need to make that happen.

Optical character recognition software (otherwise known as OCR) has the ability to convert scanned documents, PDF documents, and image documents into editable and searchable documents. Documents that have gone through OCR software can then be recognized by, and read through screen reader software. Screen readers are tools oftentimes used by those with visual impairments; they convert textual content into ‘synthesized’ speech, which is then read aloud to the user.

One trick to see whether or not a digital document is accessible is to try to highlight a line of text and then copy-paste it into another document. If you can successfully do that, your document is ready to be read by a screen reader. If you cannot highlight a single line of text and/or copy-paste it, you may want to consider putting your document through OCR software. However, if you have a “protected” PDF, you will not be able to reformat the document for accessibility.

OCR readers can read more than just digital documents – they are powerful tools that can also perform their function on scanned documents, either typed or handwritten. That is not to say that they are infallible, however. OCR software may have difficulties reading documents created before 1850, and may not always be 100% accurate. The user must be vigilant to make sure that mistakes don’t creep their way into the final product.

The Scholarly Commons is outfitted with two OCR programs: ABBY FineReader, and Adobe Acrobat. To read more on the specifics of each software, see the ABBY FineReader LibGuide or Adobe Acrobat’s Guide to OCR. There are also numerous options online for PDF readers online — look around and find the option that works best for you. Just a little time with this user-friendly software can make not only your research accessible, but to make the world a little more accessible as a whole.

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