While many people associate assistive technology with specialized devices that are expensive or hard to find, many mainstream technology devices have started supporting accessibility features and built-in assistive technology that can make specialty tools more financially and publicly accessible for all. Printers play a significant role in making accessible copies of physical information, and often have additional capabilities that can aid with the document accessibility process. Here are features to look for when buying a printer for users with vision loss, as part of my ongoing Mainstream Technology and Low Vision post series.
Paper size plays an important role in the creation of accessible materials for low vision, and accessible copies of math and science assignments, as well as sheet music, are often are printed on page sizes that are larger than the standard 8.5″ by 11″ copy paper. If users will be regularly printing out documents with different or nontraditional page sizes, look for a printer that supports larger or multiple paper sizes. My personal printer does not support larger page sizes since I do not print out larger paper documents often- if I need to have something printed on larger paper like I did for my large print music binder, I typically print these items off at a copy store and have them cut to size. If I was in a classroom setting or regularly making copies of accessible assignments at home, I would look for a printer that supported larger paper sizes.
How to load in paper
I prefer to print documents I will be reading for a long period of time on off-white or colored paper, because it provides less glare than traditional white paper, or I will print documents that I need to write on in permanent marker on a heavier cardstock so that the markers don’t bleed through the page. For this reason, it’s important that I be able to load in paper independently and that I can add pages as needed. Make sure that the paper catch/paper tray can be easily accessed and located.
- Colored Paper and the Readability of Text
- Ten Ways To Reduce Eye Strain From Screens With Technology
- Choosing High Contrast Color Schemes For Low Vision
Page yield per tank
High contrast and saturated colors are critical for me to be able to access information, and faded ink or washed out colors are impossible for me to read with low vision and poor contrast vision. It helps to be able to see how many pages an ink tank/cartridge is expected to be able to print, as low levels of ink can result in printing unusable documents. Monitor ink levels when possible and make sure that ink is refilled in a timely manner.
Another item to consider is that users with low vision may have difficulty traveling to locations where they can dispose of used printer ink cartridges. Mail-in exchange programs can help to eliminate this barrier and ensure that ink can be disposed of safely, and I recommend taking note of other stores that provide free ink cartridge disposal services as well, such as office supply stores.
Some people with low vision rely heavily on color for information and labeling purposes, while others may prefer grayscale or black and white copies of assignments. Color printers are often used in classrooms for students with low vision, though I prefer to view digital copies of colored graphics as they are easier for me to zoom in on.
- Choosing High Contrast Color Schemes For Low Vision
- Classroom Technology That Benefits Low Vision Students
- Why I Prefer My Schoolwork Digitally: Updated Edition
Connection types- wired or wireless?
For users that do not need to have their printer continuously connected to their computer or that print consistently from the same device, a wired connection printer is an efficient option that also does not require an internet connection. Wireless printers typically require Bluetooth or an internet connection, but give users the option to print from other devices such as a laptop, phone, or tablet, which can be helpful for people who are working in other locations.
Use of physical buttons vs touchscreen
Touchscreen displays are often difficult to magnify or enlarge and do not provide tactile feedback for nonvisual users. In these cases, physical buttons or controls for a printer may be preferred for users with low vision. In cases where a touchscreen or text display is unavoidable, I use a visual interpreting tool to have menus or other text on the screen read out loud- there are several paid and free services available for this that I have linked below.
Additional features such as scanners or copiers
A growing number of printers often come with additional capabilities such as scanners or copiers, which can aid in creating accessible documents. The feature I use the most often is a built-in scanner with OCR capabilities, which can send a copy of a page to my computer with text recognition so I can enlarge text more easily or listen to it read out loud.
- How To Make Historical Documents Accessible For Low Vision
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While this isn’t connected to choosing a printer with low vision, it is important to consider where the printer will be located and if copies can be retrieved easily, especially if they fall on the floor. When I lived in a college dorm, my printer was on top of a mini fridge next to my desk so that I couldn’t bump into it easily. I recommend avoiding putting printers on the floor or underneath a desk as they can pose an injury risk if someone doesn’t see it.
Summary of features to consider when buying a printer with low vision
- Paper sizes supported
- How to load in paper and what kinds of paper can be used
- Page yield per tank- how long do ink cartridges last?
- Ink color- some users may rely on color as a way of conveying information
- Wired or wireless printer connections for printing from mobile devices
- Use of physical buttons vs touchscreen, and whether a visual interpreter is needed for changing printer settings
- Additional features such as scanners or copiers that can facilitate in creating accessible materials
- Location of the printer- make sure it is not a tripping hazard