What is Electronic Text?

Electronic text is one of the foundational elements of online accessibility. Electronic text, also called digital text or eText, can be recognized and read by assistive technologies (AT) like screen readers and other text-to-speech programs. eText is also a flexible format. It can be copied and pasted into other programs. It can be enlarged without becoming pixelated, and the color, font, and contrast can all be manipulated to meet the needs of the reader. 

Conversely, an image of text—such as a scanned PDF or a JPEG that includes words—cannot be recognized and read by AT.

How Can I Select Electronic Text?

The easiest way to check for electronic text is to see if it is selectable. Can you highlight individual words on a page and copy/paste them into another document? If not, you’re dealing with an image of text instead of eText; if so, then you’ve met a basic criteria for accessibility. 

Tip Icon Tip: eText alone does not guarantee that a document is fully accessible—visit the Keep C.A.L.M. Accessible Word Documents page to learn more. 

What Can I Do?

Scanning documents often results in inaccessible images of text. Converting images of text into eText requires the use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. There are several ways to OCR your materials:

Tip Icon Tip: With all of these tools, the accuracy of the OCR will depend on the clarity of the scan!  Blurry images with poor contrast may not convert well to eText.

SensusAccess Document Converter

SensusAccess is a document conversion tool available on JMU Libraries’ website.  Upload an inaccessible PDF, PowerPoint, or image file and the program will convert it to eText and email it to you.

SensusAccess is available to everyone in the JMU community. 

Bonus Icon  Bonus: In addition to creating eText, SensusAccess can automatically convert materials into a range of other formats, including audio books (MP3 and DAISY), e-books (EPUB, EPUB3 and Mobi), and digital Braille.

Tip Icon Tip: SensusAccess is really cool – check it out!

OCR apps for mobile devices

There are a growing number of OCR apps available for mobile devices. The apps allow you to use the camera on your phone to take pictures of book pages or other types of printed material. The app then recognizes the page and converts it to text. Many apps include a speech synthesizer that will read the text aloud.

While this may not be helpful for a fifty page document, OCR apps are a great tool for shorter readings. Here are a few among many:

  • iOS (iPhones & iPads)
    Prizmo 5
    Adobe Scan

  • Android:
    Text Fairy
    Text Scanner

  • Both:

Bonus Icon Bonus: Some of these programs include translation capabilities.

OCR/scanning software

When available, the most efficient OCR tool may be the scanning software itself. Many scanners come with scanning software that allows you to adjust contrast, select resolution, etc. Oftentimes, this software includes OCR capabilities that will recognize text as you scan.

Programs like Adobe Acrobat Pro include an OCR function. Specialized and highly-sophisticated OCR software, like Abbyy FineReader and OmniPage Ultimate, are also available but not inexpensive. 

Tip Icon Tip: Try doing an internet search for the name of your scanner or scanning software and the term “OCR” to find out if OCR is available.

Back to Top