Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)


Friday, October 24, 2008

Adobe Acrobat: Current Solutions to Accessing PDF files

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) is a universal file format that preserves all the fonts, formatting, colors, and graphics of any document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. Adobe Acrobat software converts any document to Adobe PDF files, even documents that have been scanned. Adobe PDF is a common file found on the World Wide Web. It is also used to distribute electronic documents over corporate networks, via e-mail, hard disks or CD-ROM.

Since Adobe PDF can represent documents that contain graphics, columns, vertical labels or other complex layouts, screen reading software for the blind may not be able to correctly reproduce some of these documents. However, Adobe studied the W3C guidelines for accessibility and Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader now include a number of tools and features that help make information in Adobe PDF files accessible to the visually impaired. These include the following:

  1. Microsoft Active Accessibility. MSAA is a programming interface that allows Windows-based programs to present information about their content and its structure to assistive technologies, such as screen readers with speech or with braille displays.
  2. Tagged Adobe PDF. This is a feature that incorporates definitions of the document's structure into the file's format. By identifying organizational sections, such as the title page, chapters, and smaller structural headings, Adobe has made the navigation of large documents easier and more accurate. Here are some of the specific features:
    • Both content and logical structure are included in the Adobe PDF file.
    • Document content can be exported as Rich Text Format (RTF) files, allowing the information to be used in other programs or to be read by assistive technologies that aren't MSAA compatible.
    • Alternate text (ALT text) can be used for images.
  3. High-contrast color schemes. Low vision users can override the colors defined by the document with a color scheme optimized for their useful vision.
  4. Keyboard shortcuts allow the user to navigate the interface without a mouse.
  5. Reflowable text blocks. Magnified text blocks will now automatically wrap to fit on the screen instead of requiring awkward horizontal scrolling.
  6. Make Accessible plug-in. This plug-in provides accessibility to Windows screen-reading programs. The Acrobat Access plug-in converts untagged Adobe PDF files, including older files made with previous versions of Adobe Acrobat, into tagged Adobe PDF files that can be better understood by assistive technology.
  7. Adobe also has added a number of editing tools for people who are creating Adobe PDF files, including an Accessibility Checker that identifies and alerts the author to common problems. You can find out more about these at the website.

Adobe also offers a free, Web-based service at: This service converts any Adobe PDF document on the Internet into HTML or plain text. The document is also reformatted into a single column of text that can be read easily by screen readers. The site provides two conversion options:

  • The first is a Web-based form that can be used to convert PDF documents that are on the Internet. Users may type the URL to an Adobe PDF document and click a button that reads, "Get This PDF Document as HTML". The document is converted instantly into HTML and is returned immediately to the Web browser.
  • The second option is to use email to send Adobe either the URL of an Adobe PDF file on the Web or to send (as an attachment) the file from a local source (floppy disk, network drive, CD-ROM, etc.). The document is converted into HTML or into ASCII text and is sent back in a new e-mail in a matter of minutes.

When converts Adobe PDF to HTML, all existing hypertext links are converted to HTML links. This includes intradocument links as well as links to other documents on the Internet. Adobe also adds extra links to make navigation within the document easier:

  • "Document Body" links to the start of the document.
  • "Page Navigation Panel" has a numbered link to each page in the document (i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc).
  • "Next" and "Previous" links are inserted between pages
  • Finally, if the Adobe PDF contained "Acrobat Bookmarks," a type of table of contents, the converted file will have a "Document Outline" with links that equate to the original Acrobat Bookmarks.

Convert PDF to a Text File

So you've got a cool book in PDF format, and you'd love to read that book with your Braille+? How do you convert that PDF to something you can use? Don't purchase software costing thousands of dollars, simply use your Adobe Reader.

Depending on the PDF security properties of a file, you may be able to export PDF documents to a text file for opening in programs such as Notepad, or for sending to a notetaker. Note that this best works for documents that contain mostly text; graphical documents and those with complex formatting may produce questionable results.

  1. Open a PDF document in Adobe Reader.
  2. Select "File" from the top menu by either clicking the word "file" or by using the keyboard command ALT+F.
  3. From the resulting menu, click on, or arrow down to "Save as Text" and press "enter".
  4. Choose a folder to place your document.
  5. Give the document a filename.
  6. Click, or tab to "Save" and press "enter".

Each page of the converted PDF will have the following header:

FILENAME page nnn of nnn


Bookmarks Page 1 of 4

Each page of the converted PDF will have the following footer:



file://C:\blah.htm 1/16/2005

Your document should now be ready for your notetaker.

PDF2TXT: Access PDF Docs in a Flash

By Darrell Shandrow
Blind Access Journal:

I urge all blind computer users to download, install and use Jamal Mazrui's PDF2TXT utility whenever quick, effective access to PDF documents is required.

My new position requires that I review and search a large quantity of documentation, most of which is only available in PDF. PDF2TXT has been an absolute Godsend in this area.

The program quickly converts single PDF documents or a large batch of PDF files into plain text format that is extremely usable and understandable for those of us relying on screen readers. Though I have known about this handy software for quite some time now, I delayed giving it a try myself. Don't make the same mistake. Get PDF2TXT today!

Click this link to download PDF2TXT:

TechDis Accessibility Essentials

The JISC TechDis Accessibility Essentials Guide on making the most of PDFs has been designed to provide step-by-step information to enable anyone creating Portable Document Format (PDF) documents do so in a more accessible manner. These hints and tips will benefit those who create PDF documents using scanned materials or word processed documents, or receive a PDF version of publicity materials from a graphic designer.

PDF to Word

Free PDF to Word Doc Converter is a simple website that solves a big problem. upload your PDF and download your word file. No registering, nothing. Nifty idea.

Click this link to convert PDF documents to MS-Word documents:
If you want to turn it back, or do the job the other way, try

Another Easy to use online PDF to Word converter is To use this site, click on the "Browse" button and select the PDF file you want to convert. Then click "Convert and Download" and wait for conversion to complete. Now you're ready to download the Microsoft Word document to your computer. There's no limits, convert as many files as you like. with no restriction on the individual PDF file size and there's no website registration required.

Click this link to visit ConvertPdfToWord at
Click this link to visit another PDF to Word Converter site:

Click this link to check out Adobe's blog on accessibility:

No comments:

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter


Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at


The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.

The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.

Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.

Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.

Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email to request permission.

Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.

Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.

Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.