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Options for Image-based Documents Article

Whenever I do a Google search, invariably I will come across a PDF. Most of these PDF files are comprised of images. That is, my screen reader detects no text in them.

This is also problematic in colleges: recently I was given a PDF of a textbook that was one big image, completely useless for practical purposes. One solution, for people running JAWS 13 and above, is Quick OCR. If you’re focused on an image, pressing insert+space, then o, will OCR the text, rendering it readable. The pros to this system are, of course, that it’s quick and efficient. It works well for those annoying image-based PDF files I encounter when searching, because usually I won’t ever need the text for anything long-term.

For situations where you do need text long-term, or if you do not have JAWS 13 or above, there are many other solutions.

OpenBook, from Freedom Scientific, is an excellent scanning and reading tool. I personally use this with an off-the-shelf scanner to scan documents and other materials. It will also make any graphics-based text accessible via its two OCR engines. Kurzweil 1000 is a similar product. Both products have document editing capabilities and various other features such as translation from braille to text (and vice versa), a dictionary, and other tools.

The problem with both of these products is their cost. OpenBook, for example, costs $995. As such, most people cannot afford these without the help of a blindness agency. For these situations, I recommend OmniPage, which is not only an OCR package but a very powerful converter. I have used this product many times to convert PDF files to Microsoft Word. Every time, it does an amazing job. It even can integrate right into Word as an add-in, providing instant OCR access should it ever be needed.

Which solution you choose depends on your budget and feature set. All three do an excellent job at OCR and make any document fully accessible. Unless you need specialized features such as a GUI for Bookshare, an integrated reading environment, or natural voices, OmniPage will probably work great. There are trials available for OpenBook and OmniPage, so if you aren’t sure, try both products out. Inaccessible PDF documents, and printed pages, can be accessible if one has the right tools.

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