One of my all-time favorite tools for reading digital content with low vision is a simplified reading display, which applies a consistent font size, font style, and background color to digital text. This makes it easier to read content without having to zoom in on a page, edit content, or enabling other accessibility settings, and makes it easy for users to simplify reading with technology. Here are my tips for using simplified reading displays with low vision, and a list of popular simplified reading tools that can be used for low vision.
Other names for simplified reading displays
Searching for a simplified reading display for low vision? It may be referred to by one of the following names:
- Reading view
- Distraction-free reading
- Reading tools
- Reader mode
- Simplify reader
- Reading mode
- Simplify text
Basic features for simplified reading displays
Almost all simplified reading displays offer the following options for customizing content for low vision and print disabilities:
- Adjust text size
- Change font style
- Increase text spacing
- Change background color
- Adjust margins
- Support for webpages, PDFs, EPUB, and other files that can be opened in a web browser
Simplified reading displays can be enabled within the web browser, as an add-in for another application, or accessed in a separate application/website.
Microsoft: Immersive Reader
Immersive Reader is a built-in tool for several Microsoft applications, including the Edge web browser, Word, OneNote, Outlook, Office Lens, and others. Immersive Reader offers several customization options and features that go beyond the typical simplified reading display, including:
- Highlighting parts of speech
- Picture dictionary
- Separating syllables
- Options to highlight text and open the highlighted section in Immersive Reader
The exact location of Immersive Reader varies between applications, but the features are the same. While Immersive Reader will remember user settings within an application, it does not sync between applications- so if I change a setting in Immersive Reader in Microsoft Edge, it won’t affect my settings in Outlook.
Immersive Reader can be accessed using the following methods:
- Pressing F9 in Microsoft Edge
- Selecting the Immersive Reader button in the address bar of Microsoft Edge
- Select the View tab in OneNote or Word, and choose Immersive Reader from the Learning Tools menu
- Select “Show Immersive Reader” in the options menu for Outlook
- When choosing export options in the Office Lens app, select the Immersive Reader option
- How I Use Microsoft Immersive Reader With Low Vision
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- Designing Accessible Documents With Microsoft Word
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- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
Apple: Reading View
Reading View offers more minimalist features compared to other simplified reading displays, but is an amazing tool for the Safari web browser as it can simplify pages for an improved reading experience. Some unique features with Reading View include:
- Options to launch Reading View automatically for specific websites or blog posts/articles from websites
- Pinch-to-zoom gestures within Reading View for further magnifying text
To enable Reading View in Safari, select the Reading View icon in the address bar, which looks like a lowercase and uppercase A. Long-press on the icon to customize the font size, font, and background color.
Chrome: Reader Mode
Google Chrome has a few extensions for simplified reading displays, as well as a built-in Reader Mode that is accessed from the web browser. As of publishing time, Reader Mode does not work on Chrome’s mobile browser, but can be activated for desktop sites.
To activate Reader Mode on Google Chrome:
- Before using Reader mode for the first time, copy and paste this link into Google Chrome to enable Reader Mode and select “Enable” from the drop down menu. chrome://flags/#enable-reader-mode
- Select the Reader Mode icon in the web address bar, which looks like a book
Google Chrome browser extensions can also be enabled in the Microsoft Edge web browser.
Snap&Read browser extension
Snap&Read is another simplified reading display for web browsers and comes highly recommended by the assistive technology specialists at my university- I personally have not used this extension very often. Snap&Read has several unique features for students, including:
- Options to translate text into 100+ languages
- Screenshot reader/reading text from an image with OCR technology
- Options to adjust the reading level for text
Users can test Snap&Read for free, and paid subscriptions are around $4 a month- I received a free account while taking undergraduate classes because I had a Disability Services file.
- Snap&Read Universal (snapandread.com)
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
- How To Create A Disability Services File
Helperbird is another popular simplified reading display extension at my university, and has a Reader Mode option that functions in a similar way to a simplified reading display, as well as integration with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader- which means that users have two options for using a simplified reading display. I received a lifetime membership for free after attending an assistive technology conference, but Helperbird has free and paid plans available for various reading features.
- Your reading, writing & accessibility assistant – Helperbird
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help You Study For Exams
Pocket reading app
I use Pocket to bookmark articles and display them for offline reading on my phone, tablet, computer, and other devices- articles are synced across all platforms. Users can add articles to their Pocket account by using a web browser extension, sharing a web page to Pocket on their mobile device, or copy/pasting links.
The teleprompter is the original simplified reading display, and works great for displaying text at very large sizes without having it get pixelated or blurry. I usually copy and paste text into a teleprompter app or website and then use the auto-scroll feature to read text as it is displayed on the screen. I found teleprompter apps especially helpful when working on school news, as I could display text on my iPad at a shorter distance.
More ideas for using simplified reading displays with low vision
- Looking for a way to simplify complex text? Consider using Rewordify, which can adjust text for different reading levels that is copy/pasted from the clipboard. Rewordify.com | Understand what you read
- Want to make it easier to scan in text or copy/paste it to another application? I love the Scanmarker Air as a low-cost scanning pen option. ScanMarker Air for Print Disabilities
- Simplified reading displays are different from web overlays, which change the appearance of a web page and are typically built into the site design. Simplified reading displays can be activated for reading articles or blog posts on almost any website
- Simplified reading displays have options for reading text out loud, but do not generally work with screen readers