Tools for Reading a PDF Document Out Loud

By Mary Warner posted 04-18-2023 09:00 AM


A couple of months ago, I got an email from Bill Wernz, author of Minnesota Legal Ethics. He had heard from a reader who had stumbled upon a tool in his PDF reader that allowed him to listen to Minnesota Legal Ethics being read. Bill asked me about this tool and I did some investigating.

I suspected this was an accessibility feature in a version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. I'm using Adobe Acrobat Standard. With a little online search, I discovered that it was called the "Read Out Loud" tool. Google showed me where it was located and I gave it a try, testing it on Minnesota Legal Ethics. I was impressed, not only at how well it reads but at the fact that such a feature is standard in Acrobat. When had this happened?

I learned at the 2023 ABA TECHSHOW that Adobe rolls out upgrades twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Was this a recently-added feature? 


A YouTube video from the University of Alabama Office of Disability Services demonstrates Read Out Loud in November 2013, almost a decade ago. [] What off-the-grid cabin have I been hanging out in that I had never heard of this tool?

Rather than berate myself for not knowing, I have to remind myself that any complex software available is loaded with features, many of which we will never use. And software is continually updated, so it's impossible to keep track of all the changes. I'm just glad Bill and his reader brought this to my attention.

While working on this article, I also checked out Google Chrome's extension "Read Aloud: A Text to Speech Reader." I found it to read a bit more smoothly than Adobe Acrobat's Read Out Loud. Along with PDF documents, it will read websites. It has more choices for reading voices than Adobe. Further, Google's Read Aloud will read in other languages, although it read Minnesota Legal Ethics in a mix of French and English-with-a-French-accent when I chose French as the reading language.

If you'd like to use Read Out Loud in Adobe Acrobat or Read Aloud in Google Chrome, below is a quick guide on how to use both.

Do you have a favorite read out loud tool that you use? If so, please share!


Adobe Acrobat Standard - Read Out Loud

The following instructions are for Adobe Acrobat Standard, but they are likely to be similar for other versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Note: To see the images below more clearly, right click an image and select "Open image in new tab."

- Open your document in Adobe Acrobat.

- Navigate to the View menu in the upper left and select it to reveal the drop-down menu.

- Select Read Out Loud at the bottom of the menu.

- Select Activate Read Out Loud from the menu that appears.

- Go to View menu in upper left and select Read Out Loud again.

- Select either "Read This Page Only" or "Read To End of Document" to begin having the computer read the document out loud.

In order to set reading preferences for Adobe Acrobat, like voice and speed, navigate to the Edit menu and select Preferences at the bottom of the drop-down menu.

- In the Preferences window, select Reading from the list on the left.

- Uncheck the box next to "Use default voice" in order to change the reading voice.

- Select the voice you want from the drop-down menu. 

- Make other adjustments on this page, as needed.

- Click OK at the bottom and return to your document.

- Select Read Out Loud to start again. To stop Adobe from reading, select Read Out Loud and then Pause or Stop from the menu that appears.


Google Chrome Extension - Read Aloud: A Text To Speech Reader

Open Google Chrome.

Install the Read Aloud extension at this link:

A puzzle piece will appear in your toolbar to the right of the box for web addresses (circled in red in the image below). This is where your Chrome extensions live.

- Click on the puzzle piece and select Read Aloud from the drop-down menu (next to turquoise arrow below).

Read Aloud will read the PDF or web page you have open.

By default, a window pops up with the text that is being read highlighted in yellow.

To stop or pause the reading, click on the buttons at the top of the pop-up screen.

When you stop the reading, the pop-up screen closes and you are left with a small box containing two tools, a "Play" button and a "Settings" icon.

- Click on the Settings icon to change the way Read Aloud functions including Voice (highlighted with turquoise arrow), Speed, Pitch, Volume, and Text Highlighting.

- Choose the voice you want from the Voice drop-down menu. You may have to allow additional permissions for some of the voices on the list.

- Once you have selected a voice, you may click the Test button to hear it read a sample text. 

- After selecting a voice, close the Options box to return to the document or web page and click on the Play icon to start reading.

I hope you'll find these tools handy. Feel free to share your favorite read aloud tools in the comments.