Colored Paper and the Readability of Text

On my seventeenth birthday, I presented at a science fair affiliated with my school district about my research on how the color of paper can affect the readability of the text on the paper.  This was the first time I really investigated how important contrast is when creating accessible documents, and I was able to determine the colors of paper I preferred for my assignments.  When I presented this research to the science fair judges, I received an unexpected surprise- three out of the five judges were colorblind!  Globally, one in twelve men and one in two hundred women are colorblind, and the odds of encountering two men and one women who are colorblind in a room seemed to be one in a million.  My friends and family found this experience absolutely hilarious, and told me that it would be a great story to tell if I ever presented my research again, though I wasn’t very amused.

My interest in this topic began in 2013, when I visited a neuro-opthalmologist at a large medical center who showed me an eye chart with different colored backgrounds.  They explained that people tend to see better on the eye chart with colored backgrounds because the colors helped reduce eye fatigue (from the white glare of the normal eye chart) and it was easier for the eyes to focus.  I was fascinated by this, and chose to do more research on it for my science fair project.  Over the years, I have learned even more about creating accessible materials and how important contrast is, and will be sharing some of the practical applications of my research below.

What colors work best

Light yellow and light blue were found to be the paper colors that were the easiest to read off of.  It could easily be read in all lighting conditions, and the effectiveness of the colors weren’t diminished if someone wore tinted glasses (like I do).  I have found it is easy to read on these colors for long periods of time, and all colors of my pens and markers show up sharp even on the colored paper.  Blue is best for large amounts of information or reading, while yellow works great for worksheets.

What colors work less well

Neon bright colors, while they do stand out, often contribute to eye fatigue and the eyes may have trouble focusing on the page.  Darker colors, such as those found on conventional construction paper, may also be difficult to read.  The darker backgrounds obscure text and make information difficult to process.

Using colored films

While this wasn’t part of my project, one of my teachers found that I processed information much better when they added a colored film on top of the paper that they were projecting, or when I layered a colored film on top of what I was reading.  Because of the way fluorescent lighting was set up in some classrooms, I found these films difficult to use when the lights above me would reflect on top of the plastic, so I very rarely used them while sitting at my desk.  Now that I am in college though, and most of my classrooms don’t use fluorescent lighting, I have found myself reaching for these films more often when I have to read papers for long periods of time.

Changing white intensity

Since sharp white can be bad for eye fatigue, I have blue light filters on all of my main electronic devices, including my desktop computer, laptop computer, Android phone, and iPad.  I also have a post dedicated to reducing eyestrain with technology.

If I put it on a colored background, does this mean I don’t need large print?

NO!!  If you have low vision, please continue to use your preferred font sizes and image sizes, even if you use a colored paper.  The page color is supposed to make text easier to see, not to add any other difficulties.

Bottom line, the page color can influence the readability of font, and by using light colors, the reader may find it easier to read for long periods of time and not have as much eye fatigue from glare.  Experiment with different papers and figure out which one works best.

All About Bookshare

Welcome to Print Disability Week, where I will be posting once a day about ways to receive services for a print disability, with a webinar on Thursday in collaboration with AIM-VA, an accessible educational materials provider for students with print disabilities in grades K-12 in Virginia. Today, I will be talking about an organization that was the catalyst for my interest in assistive technology called Bookshare.

In 2011, my family took me to an assistive technology event at what would be my future university. We didn’t know much about assistive technology, and went there to find resources and answers to many questions we had. It was there that someone asked us if we had heard of Bookshare, and we shook our heads no, since we weren’t very familiar with assistive technology resources at the time. Little did I know, this service would revolutionize how I read. Here are some of the questions I had when I first started using Bookshare, and my personal experiences with it.

What is Bookshare?

Bookshare is an accessible digital library for people with print disabilities. There are over half a million titles available, from New York Times bestsellers to cookbooks and even textbooks, though there may be issues with displaying images. Materials are downloaded from their website instantly in the DAISY file format, which can be converted to audio, Braille, or large print.

How do I qualify for Bookshare?

If you have a diagnosed print disability from low vision, a physical disability, or a learning disability, you can qualify for Bookshare instantly. My mom faxed in a letter from my ophthalmologist certifying that I have low vision and require large text, however the process is now done online through a personalized link where users can upload documents.

Should my school create my account?

While a school can set up an account for multiple student users, I actually recommend that a student set up their own account. It is much easier to download content, since the user doesn’t have to worry about requesting downloads from their sponsor, and it also gives them an opportunity to learn how to access materials for themselves. Plus, you can continue to use the account even after you graduate, as the service is free for students in grades K-12 and college in the United States, and $50 a year after that.

How many books can I download?

A user can download fifty (50) books per month.

How do I read the materials on an iPad?

Bookshare has their own online web reader that works beautifully, and they also have other member recommended reading apps. While it is the most expensive, I prefer the app Read2Go and have been using it for years with no issues.

How do I read the materials on an eReader?

I purchased a Daisy to ePub converter from Don Johnson in order to convert books to an ePub format so that I could have them on my eReader. This works great for books with no images. The page numbers tend to be a bit off, so if I’m reading a book for school and have to cite page numbers, I have an agreement with my teachers that I can cite the first sentence of the page rather than the page number, and if the teacher told the class to turn to a certain page, they would give me the first sentence so I could search for it.

What titles can I find on Bookshare?

Almost any book you can think of is on there. It’s very rare that I can’t find what I am looking for, though it has happened. Typically I enjoy reading fiction and popular bestsellers.

Is this even legal?

Yes, through the Chafee amendment, which allows organizations to create materials for students with print disabilities without publisher permission and without violating copyright.

My testimony

I have been a proud member since December 2011 and have enjoyed being able to read the same books as my peers. At my local library, before they partnered with an ebook service, the only large print books available to me were romance novels, which I had zero interest in. Thanks to Bookshare, I have been able to read whatever I want and join in on conversations. I wasn’t limited by what the library had to offer, and could read age appropriate books alongside my peers.

Right now, Bookshare is in danger of losing a large amount of federal funding, and I can’t imagine going without this service now that I have used it for so long. My best advice for users is to write to their representatives and encourage them to preserve these services. I will be posting a sample letter here on my blog.

I have been incredibly grateful to qualify to receive these services, and the benefits I have received have helped me to read more than I ever thought I would, even though I have low vision. Bookshare also inspired me to pursue an interest in assistive technology, as I was amazed to see that I could combine my love of technology and helping others. I hope that this posts helps more people learn about this incredible service that I recommend to every person I meet who has a print disability.