Whenever a document is organized so that information is in multiple columns or multiple text areas (e.g. text captions, unusual placement of icons/text), then it is important to verify that the screen reader reads the information in a logical or coherent order.

Reading Order Example

Consider the PowerPoint slide below which contains three images and three captions. By visual scan, one would expect that the reading order would be the top-left image followed by the caption beneath, the second image, the caption beneath it then the lowest image with the caption below that.

However, within PowerPoint, the items were ordered so that the images were presented first then the captions. This occurred because the images were inserted on the slide before the captions. Fortunately, PowerPoint includes tools to allow authors to adjust the reading order of slide objects.

Slide shows PA in Hebrew, Cherokee and Devanagari. Images are read first then captions. Captions say that Hebrew is left to right with consonants only, Cherokee symbols represent syllables and Devanagari is consonants with vowel marks.

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The following documents can present reading order issues.

  1. PowerPoint – Verify that items are in a logical order in the PowerPoint Reorder panel.
  2. PDF – Use the Acrobat repair tools to verify that blocks of text are in a logical order. Acrobat may make "guesses" different from what the author intended, especially when textboxes and columns are used.
  3. InDesign CS5 – Reading order of items can be set before the file is converted to PDF.
  4. HTML Web Pages – Text is read in HTML code order. However CSS and other techniques may present a visual order different from the original code order.
  5. Flash – The reading order of each object needs to be determined and verified manually. See the Flash External Links for more details.

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