"Creating Accessible PDFs" Session Summary

An image of the Adobe Acrobat logo.
Thursday December 8th, representatives from the Library, IT, and the LEADS offices presented a session about creating accessible PDF documents. Topics covered scanning tips and working with Adobe Acrobat Pro. This was followed by a question and answer period.

Making PDFs accessible is not only important for persons who may need accommodation, but for everyone. A PDF with rendered text is searchable, may be read aloud, and may be marked up or annotated. This makes the document more inclusive and a better tool for teaching and learning, enabling students to engage with the text in different modes.

OCR - What Is It?
OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. This is the process in which a software program identifies where it thinks words are by drawing rectangles around them, compares the light and dark pixels to what it knows are particular letters, and finally provides the output of the computer’s guess as to what the text is. In the image below, the boxes are drawn in green and red. Click the image to see a larger version.

Example of optical character recognition.

DPI Explained, and Why it Matters
DPI, or dots per inch is the resolution of the document. The more dots in a given area the higher the resolution. Resolution is an important factor in the ability of software to be able to recognize text. If the resolution is not high enough, the software will not be able to accurately render the text. The recommended minimum resolution when scanning for OCR is 300 dpi.

Document Quality

The most important consideration for making a document accessible is the overall quality of the document. By quality we mostly mean resolution or DPI. This greatly affects how easily the document can be made accessible. The presence of additional drawings, underlining, highlighting, or handwriting within the document can make attempting OCR a difficult and frustrating experience. The age of the digital document also plays a role in how well the document may be OCRed.

If the document you are working with is an old scan, it may be recommended to re-scan depending on the results of the OCR. The quality of a document also degrades each time it is copied or scanned. While the document may have sufficient quality to be read, it may not have sufficient quality to be OCRed. If the results from the OCR are not accurate, it may be recommended to re-scan the original. Below is an example of how the quality of a document may affect the quality of the OCR.

In a session about universal design for learning (UDL), Kristen Dabney shared the following images* as examples of the effect that resolution and document age can have on the ability for the software to render the text. The first image shows an older, low DPI document. The second image is newer and has higher DPI. Click the thumbnail images to see full-size images.

An image showing a side-by-side comparison of an older, low resolution PDF  and the resulting rendered text.
OCR Example 1

This image shows a side-by-side comparison of a newer, higher resolution scan and the resulting rendered text.
OCR Example 2

Scanning Setting Recommendations for OCR

In order to ensure that the quality of the resulting scan will be as high as possible to support OCR there are three settings we need to check and/or change. They are:
  1. Color - This should be set to Grayscale. The grayscale setting helps to gather as much detail as possible from the original without making the file size too large.
  2. Resolution (DPI) - This should be set to 300 dpi to best support OCR. 
  3. Format - The file format should be PDF.
The links below to specific devices cover how to set each of the above settings for the particular device.

Editing a PDF with Adobe Acrobat

In order to make a PDF accessible requires that one edit that PDF. Adobe Acrobat Pro is the recommended tool on Beloit college's campus. The college has a site license for this software. If you do not have it and would like it installed, please submit a request through SchoolDude, and IT will be happy to install it for you.

The instructions below are for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.

To run OCR in Acrobat:

  1. Select Tools > Enhance Scans > Recognize Text > In this File
  2. Click the Recognize Text button to scan document. This may take some time depending on how many pages there are in the document.

    When you run OCR, anything that Acrobat finds that it is not sure about is called a "Suspect." Suspects are outlined in red and will ask for verification of particularly questionable words. If there aren’t many in the document, it may be worth editing. If the entire page is filled with them, re-scanning will be a better use of your time. For more about this check out the following link: https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/scan-documents-pdf.html
    Some other tools/edits that may be helpful:

    • Crop Pages
      Cropping pages may allow you to crop out handwriting, extra pages that you don't need, or shadows from edges of pages.

      To Crop a page:
      1. Select Tools > Edit PDF.
      2. Click the Crop Pages button.
      3. Click and drag a selection box around the portion you want to keep.
      4. Double-click inside the selection box.
      5. In the Set Page Boxes dialog box confirm the crop. You may also choose to which pages you want the crop to apply.
      6. Click OK.

    • Remove blanks
      Removing blank helps reduce file size and increases the readability of a document.

      To remove page(s):
      1. Select Tools > Organize pages.
      2. Click to select the pages you want to remove. There are options to select varying groups of pages if necessary.
      3. Click the Delete icon (trash can).

    • Optimize PDF
      Optimizing a PDF reduces file size. You may read more about it here: https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/optimizing-pdfs-acrobat-pro.html

      To optimize a PDF:
      1. Select File > Save as Other... > Optimized PDF... .
      2. The defaults in the PDF Optimizer dialog box are generally good for our purposes. Click OK.
      3. Choose a save location and click Save.

    Scanning Locations and Devices

    There are a number of locations to scan on campus. The Library has a number of scanners located in the North Riser area. Instructions for using the two models you will find there are linked below. All of the computers in the Library have Adobe Acrobat Pro installed.

    Multi-function Devices (MFDs)

    There are a number of other locations at which you may scan documents. Below is a list of the multi-function devices at which documents may be scanned to PDF and sent by email. The links navigate to instructions for each specific device.
    *images have been used with permission.

    If you would like a downloadable, printable PDF version of this post, click here.


    Create Accessible PDFs Session

    Representatives from the Library, IT, and the LEADS offices will present a demonstration of how to create accessible PDF documents. Topics covered will include scanning tips, and working with Adobe Acrobat Pro. This will be followed by a question and answer period.

    The session will be held on Thursday December 8, from 10:30-11:30 AM in Science Center, Room 150.

    We invite any interested faculty, staff, or students to attend.

    Link to event: https://www.beloit.edu/campus/events/?event_id=491555

    Link to session summary: coming soon


    Scheduling Meetings: Choice Eliminator Google Forms Plugin

    Logo image for the Choice Eliminator 2 plugin for Google Forms.
    I happened on this plugin for Google Forms that will eliminate a choice once it has been chosen and submitted in a form. This has the potential to streamline scheduling office hours or other meetings. I am sure that there are other applications as well.

    The plugin may be found and installed at the following link: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/choice-eliminator-2/mnhoinjhhhafgieggnhjekliaodnkigj

    I found this plugin from a post in the Free Tech for teachers blog. It is one option in a list of options. While focusing on the K-12 venue, this blog is a great resource for any instructor regardless of teaching level, and is listed in our list of "Noteworthy Blogs."


    UPDATE: Free Transcription (Speech to Text) Tool

    We have updated the post about using Google Voice Typing in Google Docs for transcription to include a note about accessibility. Google Docs is not the most accessible tool. It is possible however to download any Google Doc as a Microsoft Word document.

    To do so:
    Click File > Download As... > Microsoft Office (.docx).

    Doing so will create a Microsoft Word document of the file, which is more accessible to those who may need to use a screen reader.


    ITEC Workshop: Google Classroom

    ITEC presented a workshop about Google Classroom ("Classroom") September 6 and 8. Thank you to all who attended. From Google, "Google Classroom is a blended learning platform for schools that aim to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way. It was introduced as a feature of Google Apps for Education following its public release on August 12, 2014. Its aim is to be a paperless educational system." Classroom is available through the Beloit College Google domain.

    If you are interested in this tool, please contact ITEC.

    Using Google Classroom

    Classroom is a great tool for communicating with students, discussing topics, sharing assignments and staying on top of the course schedule. As we will see, Classroom integrates powerfully with Google Drive, making the document management related to the sharing and submission of assignments easy. The collaborative nature of the Drive apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Draw) make these tools especially suited for facilitating a feedback loop and conversation between teacher and student(s) while work is being done. Classroom lacks a grade book or grading mechanism, but Google Forms will allow the creation of quizzes (see this post about quizzing in Google Forms). There are also add-ons, like Flubaroo, that will facilitate the grading of assignments. A Google Sheet may be used to create a grade book. Apps are available for Classroom on Android and iOS for those that desire to access the course on a mobile.


    Classroom is only available for Google Apps for Education. If you are teacher wanting to use Classroom, please make sure that you sign up as a teacher. If you sign up to Classroom as a student you will not be able to convert your role to "teacher" without assistance from the Google Administrator. As a teacher you can still join classes as a student (not your own). The Dashboard is what you will see the first time that you navigate to classroom.google.com. This page will list all of the courses you create and those you join as a student.

    Creating a Course

    Creating a course a course is simple. To create a course, click the "+" icon next to your username in the upper right corner, and then select "Create." A window will appear in which you can enter the course name, section, and subject (Fig. 1). Once you create your course you will be taken to the course stream page. This is the main course page which the teacher and students will visit most frequently. It is the place where materials and assignments will be posted and where online discussions will be displayed.

    Note: Classroom discussions/commenting may be difficult to access and participate in for someone who makes use of screen reader software.

    Fig. 1
    The other two areas available in the course page are "Students" and "About." the students page is where the teacher may add students. Students are added by adding their email address. 

    The "About" page is a static page where the teacher may post information about this course. This is a good place for a welcome message, syllabus, office hours - general course information which won't change throughout the semester.

    Tip: Create a contact group for your class in Google Contacts. You can then add this group to the students page to add all the students at once!

    Once the course is created the teacher may add students. Students are invited by email. A teacher may add the students directly (recommended) or send a link to the course with a special code to join. This may be seen in the image below. Creating a contact group makes it easy to add all the students at one go. When students are added the teacher may determine the level of action that a student may take within a course. A student may comment only, post and comment, or the teacher may only comment (image below).

    Class Calendar

    When you create a course a calendar is automatically created to go along with that course (Fig. 2). The class calendar is automatically added to the teacher's and students' Google calendars under the "My Calendars" section. Any assignments which are given a due date will appear on the calendar in the "all-day" section of the day on which they are due.

    There is a calendar page in Classroom also. The default view is to show all class calendars (Fig. 3). It is possible to filter the visible calendars by class.


    Integration with Google Drive

    Part of the power of Classroom is the way it integrates with Google Drive and how it handles document organization and sharing/ownership for assignments. When you sign up for Classroom a "Classroom folder is created in your Drive (Fig. 4). A folder will be created inside this folder for any courses you create in Classroom. This means that all your materials can be organized in one place, by course. 

    Classroom also handles the sharing and ownership of documents within assignments. The teacher may create template documents for the students to use if they wish. While the student works on the assignment The student owns the document. The teacher has edit privileges, allowing them to provide feedback via comment, view revision history, or edit the document.

    Populating the Course Page

    There are a number of items you may post in a course. The image to the left shows the options for what may be added. These include creating a question, creating an assignment, creating an announcement, or reusing a prior post.

    To access this menu of items click the circle-+ icon located in the lower right corner. All of the item types allow the teacher to attach files, add files from Google Drive, add a video from YouTube, or add a link to another resource.

    Tip: It is recommended that you create the assignments and quizzes in Google Drive first, and then add them to the specific course assignment, or quiz.

    It is possible to set a due date for questions and assignments. When you do so, the item will tell the teacher how many assignments are complete. The item(s) will also be added to the class calendar. It is also possible to tag any items with a topic. These allow the students or teacher to filter the stream down into the materials for a specific topic.

    Once an assignment has been created the teacher may look at the submission status for the assignment and/or grade the students by clicking on the "Student Work" tab (Fig. 5). The instructions tab will list any instructions for the assignment and discussion/comments made on the assignment.

    Fig. 5

    Archiving Courses, Re-Using courses

    Once a course is complete it is possible to archive a course. This is recommended as it serves as a record of the work completed by students and allows the teacher to go back at review the course as a resource. The teacher and students won't be able to make changes. The teacher and students can view this class in "Archived Classes" in the Classroom menu and can find all class files in Drive.

    While in some learning management systems it is possible to reuse courses, Classroom does not function in this manner. The only options available once a course is archived is to either restore the course to the same group of students or delete it. Once a course is deleted it cannot be recovered.

    This is why the classroom folders on drive are so important. These allow a teacher to organize all the materials in one course. Building a course in Classroom is a manual process for each iteration of a course. This, however, may not be a bad thing as it provides an opportunity to evaluate the materials to determine if they are still germane to the course as a whole.

    Further Reading & Resources

    50 Things You can Do With Google Classroom, Alice Keeler & Libbi Miller - This is a link to the Beloit College catalog for this book. The book is a great primer for getting started with Google Classroom.

    Alice Keeler Teacher Tech Blog  - Similar to the book above, the Teacher Tech blog provides recommendations, best practices, and tips for working with Google Classroom/

    Google Training Extension - This extension works with many (if not all) Google tools. Related to Classroom, it will provide a number of tutorials for teachers and students to help them work in a course. The extension lives in the upper right corner of the browser window (image below).

    Once you click the button (highlighted above), you will be presented with a menu of help topics and interactive tutorials (image below).

    Google Classroom Support - This is a link to Google support pages for Google Classroom.