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For Faculty: ADA Guidelines for PDFs

Services and resources available to current Willamette faculty

PDF Files and WISE

For Faculty

When adding a PDF file to WISE, make sure the file has been created with OCR (optical character recognition). The OCR element allows screen reader software like JAWS or even Adobe Reader,  to read PDFs. This is extremely helpful to our Willamette students with vision issues.

Most PDFs from library resources are already created in this format, but some older ones may not. The database accessibility list on this page gives you a summary of some common library resources. If you are unsure about a specific file, you can often just try and highlight the text for pasting into another document. If you are able to copy and paste from within it, it has been OCR'd.

If you have someone create your PDF files, make sure they have the OCR option set in the creation process. If they need help with this, please contact WITS.

Also, please remember to limit the file size when you are creating a file. Scan documents at a lower resolution, and check the option for Reduced Size PDF in Acrobat. For previously scanned items, open the file in Adobe Acrobat DC, then select File, Save As Other, and Reduced Size PDF.

Creating a Readable PDF (OCR Tools)

These are instructions for on the thin-client Windows PCs in the library.

1. Login to the desktop client in the library.

2. From the Programs menu start Adobe Acrobat DC.

3. Open the PDF file that you would like to have readable by a text reader like Balaboka or Natural Reader.

4. On the top lft choose Tools, and then choose Enhance Scans.

5, From the Enhance Scans menu choose "Recognize Text".

5. Choose "In this file" or you can also do "In multiple files".

6. Once the OCR process has finished save the file and replace the original file.

If you have a different version of Adobe, or our looking for WITS assistance on this topic see this documentation.

Database Accessibility

Article Databases & ADA Accessibility

The library's databases present articles and abstracts in two different formats: PDF or HTML. HTML articles may be read by "read aloud" software very easily. PDFs can present some issues. PDF accessibility depends on how the articles were scanned. In some cases, security features (to prevent the document from being altered) may interfere with a PDFs accessibility.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat both have a read aloud feature. This feature will allow PDFs that are ADA accesible to be read out loud for patrons.

NOTE: The absolute best way to make use of Adobe's accessibility features is to use Adobe in conjunction with your assistive technology screen reader software.

The instructions below are intended for machines that do not have assistive technology installed on them.

To activate the read aloud feature:

In Windows OS:

  • open the PDF
  • go to the View option at the top of the screen and select Read Out Loud and then scroll down to the last option listed called, Activate Read Out Loud
  • click on the screen to begin reading

To pause, select a specific section, or read to the end of the document, select view, the read out loud option, and then the appropriate option (pause, etc.)

In Mac OS:

  • open the PDF
  • go to the Edit option at the top of the screen and select Speech and then select the option, Start Speaking
  • reader will start automatically

To stop, select Edit at the top of the screen, then select Speech, and last select the option, Stop Speaking


Built in ADA Accessibility Features in Databases

All of the EBSCO databases (see list below) have a read aloud feature for HTML articles that may be manually activated.

  • choose the HTML Full Text option and the Listen icon appears on the Tools list just under the title of the article
  • you may select three different accents and reading speeds
  • to pause the reading, click on the pause button

List of EBSCO databases with the Read Aloud Feature:

While EBSCOhost itself is ADA compliant, many of the older PDFs are not. Native PDFs that were sent directly from the publisher are compatible with screen reading software, but the older image-only PDFs cannot be read by accessibility tools. EBSCO began providing its scanned PDFs with an Optical Character Reader (OCR) text layer in September 2004. Because their search engine displays results in chronological order, the more recent PDFs on a Result List should be readable with screen reader software such as JAWS®. 

Screen Reader Accessibility for Selected Databases

Gale Databases (Academic OneFile Virtual Reference Library)

Some Gale databases provide a Listen function for full-text articles. Search for your topic, select an article, and Click Listen on the top left of the screen.


Image-based PDF files are accessible and can be read with screen readers like JAWS. These files are tagged at a high level using an automated process. While this method is not exact, it dramatically increases the accessibility of the files as compared to an untagged version.  If a PDF is not sufficiently tagged, JSTOR can manually tag PDFs. For more information see the JSTOR accessibility pages. 

Project Muse

Instructions for screen reader users:

To search from initial page list the links and select Search.  Search results are displayed in the order of check box, result number, reference details and then View HTML and View PDF to read the full text.  Select View HTML, which includes heading levels to aid navigation.

ProQuest Databases (Sociological Abstracts, Ethnic Newswatch, Wall Street Journal)

Contains many compliant PDF articles but older articles labeled as "Scanned image PDF" are not accessible.

NOTE:  Some of the information in this guide borrowed from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.

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