How to Make Print More Readable for People with Visual Limitations

(for those who can read and write large print without too much eye fatigue)

MS Word .doc version (53 kb)

1. Some Reasons People with Limited Vision May Find Print Difficult to Read

People with limited vision may find print difficult to read for a wide variety of reasons related to the specifics of their eye conditions:

* If they have eye conditions which result in clouding of the cornea (the clear membrane that covers the front of the eyeball) or clouding of the eye lens (which focuses the image on the retina), a significant amount of light may be blocked from reaching the retina (a light-sensitive membrane covering the back wall of the eyeball, and is continuous with the optic nerve and the brain);

* If they have eye conditions which result in high liquid pressure in the eye. If there is clouding of the liquid which fills the eyeball, the image which reaches the retina and the optic nerve and the brain will be blurred;

* If they have eye conditions which result in a defective retina, blood clots on the retina, or partly detached retina, their retina and optic nerve will be unable to perceive all or parts of images in their central field of vision or peripheral field of vision;

* If they have eye conditions which result in distortions in the shape of the eye, or the position of the lens in the eye, or a condition of the lens which results in clouding, then images of distant objects or close objects will lack clarity and details when they reach the retina and the optic nerve;

* If they have eye conditions which result in defective color sensors in the retina or blockage of light, they may find environmental colors difficult to discern or distinguish from each other;

* If they have eye conditions which result in defective color sensors in the retina or blockage of light, they may not be able to perceive contrasts related to color or differences in color saturation;

* If they have eye conditions which result in difficulty in controlling eye muscles, they may have problems focusing their eyes or maintaining focus for a sufficient period of time to adequately or efficiently distinguish print letters and words on a page, or they may have difficulty in moving their eyes in the ways required for reading.

People may also have other, equally important vision challenges which result in difficulties in reading print.

It is also important to recognize that people differ in their ability to use, and comfort with using, specific visual aids. Thus, even when individuals are diagnosed as having the same eye condition, they may not be able to benefit from the same visual aids. Moreover, people with different eye conditions will obtain different amounts and kinds of results from the same visual aids. Your friend’s high magnification eye glasses may help her see distant street signs better, but they may blur your vision and make you dizzy.

Although these guidelines for making print more readable for people with visual limitations have proven effective in most cases, you should always remember that visual challenges are unique to each person. So, when attempting to provide the print materials that will be most easily readable for that person, you need to work with him or her to explore and experiment with a variety of solutions before settling on anything for the long-term.

2. Some Guidelines for Making Print Easier to Read

Printed materials can be made easier to read by producing them using appropriate styles and sizes of type fonts, spacing of lines, spacing of characters, and contrast.

Copy machines should not be used to prepare printed materials for visually-impaired students because they do not have the capacity to reformat the print to meet specific needs beyond simple enlargement. Moreover, they often produce blurry or grainy or faint images of the text.

The variety of styles and sizes of fonts available on today’s computers make it easy to provide print tailored to the specific needs of each individual.

A. Font Styles

You should choose a font with easily recognizable characters, either standard Roman or Sans Serif fonts. A good choice is the sans serif style, Arial.

In general, we recommend avoiding bold type. Very many people with low vision find bold letters difficult to read. But, some people prefer bold type because the thickness of the letters make the print more legible to them.

Avoid using italics, and capitalizing all the letters in a word. Both these forms of print make it more difficult for many people with low vision to differentiate among letters.

Avoid decorative, script, and display fonts, because they are almost always a problem for low-vision print users.

B. Print Sizes

Some people find large print easiest to read. Those who need to use large print often find 20 point best for the main part of texts. But some will benefit from smaller or larger sizes.

Not everyone finds that large print helps them read more easily. For example, people who have limited peripheral or limited central vision sometimes benefit more from a simple, clear font than from large print. People with conditions which restrict their field of view sometimes feel most comfortable with enhanced print with a size of 13 points.

C. Use of Color

The use of different colored lettering for headings and emphasis is difficult to read for many people with low vision. If you need to use colors other than black for lettering, it is generally best to use dark blues or dark greens. When preparing print materials for a specific individual with a visual impairment, check to find out if there are any specific colors that are difficult for that person to see or distinguish from each other. You should also check to find out if there are any specific colors that are especially easy for that person to see or most easily distinguish from each other.

D. Contrast

Contrast is one of the most important factors in making print materials readable. Some electronic visual aids help to enhance contrast in a variety of ways that can be adjusted by the user. When printing text on paper, you should use the clearest contrast, by the juxtaposition of the greatest possible saturation with the least amount of any color whatsoever, and juxtaposition of clearly different colors.

E. Paper Quality and Color

Avoid using glossy finish paper such as that typically used in magazines and some journals. Glossy pages create excess glare, which adds to difficulty in reading for very many people who have low vision. Although white paper is best for most readers, there are some for whom various pastel paper colors greatly enhance readability and reduce eye fatigue. Students can be shown the same text printed on papers of various colors to determine if using one specific colored paper can optimize their reading experience and literacy acquisition process.

F. Space Between Lines of Text

Some people who are visually impaired have difficulty finding the beginning of the next line when single spacing is used. This can be alleviated by adjusting the spacing from the bottom of the letters on one line to the bottom of the letters on the next line of text to 1.5 times the height of the letters. Another way to deal with this problem is to use single spacing with shorter lines of print, most typically by using wider margins.

G. Spacing Between Letters

Normal letter spacing is useful for many low-vision readers. Never use condensed fonts or reduced letter spacing, as it greatly reduces legibility for all readers. Expanded fonts or expanded letter spacing can cause problems for some low-vision readers, and so should be used only for those students who you know for sure they help.

H. Margins

Many low vision devices, such as stand magnifiers and closed-circuit televisions magnifiers (CCTVs) are easiest to use on a flat surface. A wide binding margin makes it easier to hold the material flat while keeping all text visible. A minimum of one inch should be used; one and a half inches is preferable.

Prepared by the core instructors of Kaizen Program
for New English Learners with Visual Limitations

Revised August, 2004

This article is based on the experience of Kaizen core instructors, in combination with information obtained and adapted from conversations with and observations of many large print users, and from published materials, including:

Arditi, Aries (n.d.). Making Text Legible: Designing for People with Partial Sight. Lighthouse International; available at:

Kitchel, J. Elaine (2001). Large Print: Guidelines for Optimal Readability and APHont (TM), a font for low vision. American Printing House for the Blind; available at:

Sutton, Jennifer (2002), A Guide to Making Documents Accessible to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. American Council of the Blind. Available at

Kaizen Program for New English Learners with Visual Limitations (2004), How To Make Print More Readable for People with Visual Limitations. Workshop document; Seattle, U.S.A.

NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Readers are free to post, forward or reproduce this material for nonprofit research and educational uses, if it is clearly identified as the work of the Kaizen staff: Robby Barnes and Sylvie Kashdan, and any collaborators, and if the citations noted are used. All other rights reserved.

Kaizen Program
for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
email: kaizen ( at )