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Making the Most of PDFs and Adobe Acrobat Reader for Learners with ASN

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Poster details and download button


  • Published: 2017
  • Revision: 1.0
  • Format: A3
  • File type: pdf
  • File size: 3Mb


An accessible breakdown of this PDF poster is available further down the page.

The infograph/poster highlights some of the built-in tools available in the free PDF viewer, Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Making the most of PDFs and Adobe Acrobat Reader for learners is an illustrative resource with hints, tips and advice, presented in a colourful, engaging easy-to-read format.

What's in the infograph/poster?

  • How to change the background and font colours on a PDF including high contrast.
  • Using Read Out Loud, Adobe Acrobat Reader's built-in text reader.
  • Using Zoom to magnify text on a PDF.
  • Reflow - how to keep the text on a PDF from 'running off' the page at high magnification.
  • Automatically Scroll - to support learners who can't turn pages or operate a mouse.

Although many of these tools and features can be used independently to support learners they can also be used in tandem, e.g., magnification and text-to-speech, thereby extending and enhancing the usability and accessibility of PDFs.

Who is the infograph/poster for?

  • Teachers, Support Staff for Learning, classroom/learning assistants, librarians.
  • All learners, including those with additional support needs - from schools, to further and higher education.
  • Parents.

An accessible breakdown of this PDF poster is available further down the page.

Contents of the PDF poster

This is an accessible breakdown of the contents of the PDF poster, designed to be accessible with a screen reader, and also for people who find it hard to see or access the links in the poster.

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a digital file format that can be used across different devices such as Windows, Mac, iPad and Android. To view and use a PDF you need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader DC although there are others). Adobe Reader includes numerous features to help learners with additional support needs (ASN) such dyslexia, sight loss and mobility difficulties. The following offers some hints and tips on improving the readability and accessibility of PDFs by using Adobe Reader's built-in tools.

Change the background and font colour

Black text on a white background (the default setting in Adobe Acrobat Reader) can be a barrier to learners who experience visual stress and/or scotopic light sensitivity - when the letters and words on a page appear as if they are moving or jumbled.

To do this, go to: Edit > Preferences > Accessibility (from the left pane) tick Replace Document Colours > OK.

Tip: Changing the background and font colours make a big difference! Many of the digital books in the Books for All Database are in PDF format.

Use Read Out Loud - text reader

Adobe Reader also has a built-in text reader - Read Out Loud. This reads aloud text on a PDF using the computer's voice.

Text readers can help learners who:

  • Read slowly or with difficulty.
  • Get tired, or have visual stress when they read.
  • Have problems concentrating when they read.
  • Have difficulty understanding what they read.

To do this, go to: View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud

Tip: Consider combining colour and font background with Read Out Loud for additional scaffolding!

Choosing a voice

In Adobe Reader you can set the voice of your choice, e.g., the Scottish Voices.

To do this, go to: Edit > Preferences > Reading (from the left pane) untick Use Default Voice (choose a voice) > OK

Tip: Other free text readers are also available such NaturalReader & Ivona Mini Reader - find out more about text readers on the CALL website.

Use Zoom to magnify text

Learners who experience sight loss may benefit from having the text enlarged. Text can be zoomed/magnified to 400% and beyond to aid readability.

To do this, go to: View > Zoom > Zoom to

Zoom and Reflow

When text size is magnified to over 100% the document will 'run off' off the page. This can be frustrating requiring horizontal and vertical scroll bars to be adjusted. Reflow 'reflows' the text so it fits on the page, regardless of size.

To do this, go to: View > Zoom > Reflow

Tip: Consider combining Zoom, Reflow and High Contrast to improve readability.

Automatically Scroll

Adobe Reader has a built-in automatic scrolling tool which help learners who can't use a mouse, i.e. scrolling up and down pages. When Automatic Scroll is turned on the speed and direction of movement are controlled by the Up and Down Arrow Keys on the Keyboard. The 'Alt' key will pause and restart Automatic Scrolling.

To do this, go to: View > Page Display > Automatically Scroll