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Making PDFs extra accessible to display screen readers with open supply

A display screen reader is an important instrument that helps people who’re blind or low-vision learn digital textual content. Unfortunately, not all file codecs obtain the identical degree of assist from display screen readers. For instance, whereas PDF information have accessibility options that you should utilize, they’re typically not the popular file format for display screen reader customers. Between line breaks, a number of columns, symbols, and pictures, display screen readers can have hassle studying PDFs in a cohesive solution to their customers.

This is what the oldsters at Open @ RIT try to alter.

Open @ RIT is the open supply program workplace on the Rochester Institute of Technology, providing RIT college and employees help in opening their analysis tasks and sustaining communities of apply round their work. One such college member is Dr. Todd Pagano, Professor of Chemistry and Associate Dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence on the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Dr. Pagano got here to Open @ RIT searching for assist to extend the accessibility of an open-access journal, the publications of which at present exist as PDFs.

The Open @ RIT crew, consisting of UX designer Rahul Jaiswal and full-stack developer Suhas C.V., have used this challenge as a stepping stone to start exploring methods to transform PDFs into accessible HTML.

“It’s very difficult to make PDFs fully accessible, especially in an automated way,” says Mike Nolan, assistant director of Open @ RIT. 

Open @ RIT examined a number of instruments that already included accessibility options of their quest to transform PDFs into HTML efficiently. Despite these options, the ensuing HTML information nonetheless had many points that made them troublesome for display screen readers to learn, equivalent to pauses and interruptions.

At this level, Open @ RIT determined to pursue a extra open supply tool-chain to help within the conversion from acquired submissions to accessible codecs like HTML whereas sustaining the identical fashion and common look of the printed article, wherein the usage of LaTeX was instrumental.

The workflow with LaTeX is easy:

  • A submitted paper—within the type of a PDF—is pasted right into a  .tex template and was a .tex file.
    This .tex template is an edited model of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM.tex template.
  • Then tex2html—the conversion instrument constructed by Open @ RIT—is utilized to the .tex file that makes use of an open supply LaTeX converter referred to as LaTeXML to transform it to HTML lastly.
  • The ensuing HTML file exhibits important enchancment with display screen readers.

Some standing points with the tool-chain are nonetheless being labored on, however utilizing LaTeX to facilitate and standardize the era of the ensuing codecs (PDF and HTML) has proven nice promise in reaching this aim. Publishing journal articles in PDF and HTML offers readers a alternative and extra choices for compatibility with display screen readers.

Those who wish to be taught extra in regards to the challenge will get the prospect very quickly. During their explorations of LaTeX, Rahul and Suhas contacted specialists related to TeX Users Group (TUG) 2021—this 12 months’s convention run by TUC for all issues TeX and LaTeX. They’re invited to do a presentation on their challenge. The duo, together with Dr. Pagano, will talk about how they’ve been utilizing LaTeX of their accessibility efforts and the necessity for journals to be accessible. TUG 2021 shall be operating on-line from August 5-Eight, 2021.

Their work exhibits the capability for open supply for use in a manner that does not simply enhance digital transparency but additionally accessibility for all individuals.

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