App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision

About a month ago, my friend recommended an application to download on my phone. I wasn’t sure if they had thought about this, but there are many apps, even popular ones, that are inaccessible to people with low vision or photosensitivity. Right as I was about to ask, my friend said “don’t worry, the text can be enlarged to your size and there’s no strobes.” I was happy that not only my friend had checked for these things, but that the app developers had thought ahead of time and made their app accessible to people with low vision and photosensitivity.

Too many times, accessibility is considered a last minute thing to add to an application. With so many people identified as having a disability, app developers should be more aware of how important it is to consider diverse users when developing an application. Here are seven accessibility settings I check for when downloading an application, either on my Android phone or iPad. While this is targeted towards users with a disability, this also helps seniors and adults who simply forgot their reading glasses.

Can text be enlarged?

While some applications support the operating system’s default text settings, there are other apps that use their own fonts. Check that these fonts can be enlarged to a legible size- typically, I use a size 24 font, though bigger is almost always better. If there are different font style options, that is awesome too- people with certain print disabilities benefit immensely from weighted fonts like Comic Sans.

Can screen readers be used?

Many users use a tool like VoiceOver (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) in order to access text. Adding alt text image descriptions is also important so the user isn’t left guessing what was in the picture. If the image is purely decorative, write “null” or “decoration.” And please, have a skip navigation option, so the screen reader isn’t reading through unnecessary information.

Is everything displayed?

When the font is enlarged, make sure that all text, as well as buttons, are displayed on the screen in a logical manner. Some apps have text run off the screen, or do not enlarge buttons, which makes it impossible to use the app.

Is there sufficient contrast?

Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Having options to change the colors of the background or other buttons can be helpful in ensuring that users are able to see an app clearly. Having a night mode with a dark color scheme also can help reduce glare.

Are there strobe or flashing effects?

I have used a couple of applications that had random strobe or flashing light effects, or that used strobe notifications that could not be disabled. I even had a phone for about an hour that was a giant strobing mess. These apps were uninstalled immediately, and the strobing phone was returned as well. While a light at the frequency of a car blinker is fine, do not use strobe or flashing light effects, especially in red/blue colors, and give the user no way to disable them. For more information on who can be harmed by these effects, read this.

Can I use my own keyboard?

Some applications prevent the user from accessing a third party keyboard, or even the speech-to-text option. Allow users to be able to use any keyboard for maximum compatibility.

Do I have to think about using this?

If the user has to remember a complex series of steps to take because of accessibility settings being enabled, then the app isn’t worth using. One of the main design principles is that if the user has to think while using a product, then the designer has failed. Make sure users don’t have to jump through too many hoops.

Accessibility is very important to me, and I am always grateful when developers keep users like me in mind. While there are so many other disability areas to remember, I hope developers will continue to remember those of us with low vision and photosensitivity when creating apps.

Five Myths About Print Disabilities

As the school year comes to an end, preparations for a new school year are beginning.  As students transition to new classes and possibly even new schools, they may find that there are people that don’t know what a print disability is, and these people may struggle to create accessible materials or order special items.  It’s important to start the school year off right, so here I have compiled a list of five myths about print disabilities, and how to ensure students receive accessible materials

Myth 1- There’s no need for large print in math/science

While there are some print disabilities like dyslexia that only affect letters, most print disabilities affect letters and numbers in all subjects, as the font is too small to read.  There may be added difficulty with graphs, exponents, subscripts, maps, and even music.  Always have large print materials available for all subjects- this extends to textbooks as well.

Myth 2- Writing in all caps is the same as large print

DOES THIS LOOK ANY LARGER TO YOU?  Nope, didn’t think so.  Writing in all caps in a small font size is not the same as having large text.  There’s no need to write in all caps in large text either. Unless the rest of the class is getting everything in all caps, there is no reason for the student with a print disability to get everything written that way.

Myth 3- If you sit there long enough, inaccessible materials will become accessible

One day, I received a practice test that was in small print.  I walked up to the teacher and asked for large print, and they told me to sit there and try harder to see it.  After staring at it for an hour, the font didn’t magically enlarge or become clear so I could see it.  It’s also a bad idea to argue that the student doesn’t need large print, especially if they have an IEP.

Myth 4- Students should feel bad requesting large print 

At a band audition, I had trouble seeing the music that was provided for me.  The teacher on duty (not my teacher) informed me that I could throw everyone behind for 45 minutes so they could enlarge my music, or I could suck it up and play the music I couldn’t see.  This teacher knew exactly how to make me feel guilty for something I couldn’t control, so I just tried to guess what the music was- and looking at my extremely low score, I’m pretty sure my guess was very off.  Looking back, I should have made them enlarge it, as I deserved the same opportunities as the other people auditioning.  I don’t get any extra advantage with my large print.

Myth 5- If a student can use a cell phone, they don’t need large print

I actually have an entire post dedicated to this topic called “My Phone Isn’t Paper.”  Paper displays and digital displays are two different things, and students have found ways to be able to use technology using the accessibility settings.  After all, you can easily zoom in on a digital screen…the same can’t be said for a paper screen.
You have the right to see materials just like every other student, and your school is required to provide accessible materials for you if you have an IEP or 504.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.

ACT Accommodations For Low Vision

Even though I took the SAT, it was recommended that I also take the ACT (plus writing) test, as colleges liked to see that students took both exams.  While getting my SAT accommodations for my print disability was fairly easy, since I had taken an AP exam in the past, getting my ACT accommodations was extremely stressful.

I was denied my initial request for large print, however was approved for triple time, and received notification about this eleven days prior to the test.  Following that, my mom and I contacted the ACT organization, who requested more documentation for my disability, so we sent them my IEP and certification of low vision from my opthalmologist.  We also got the school testing coordinator involved in the process.  Nine days after I was initially denied accommodations, and two days before the exam, I was approved for everything I needed.

Like my SAT, I took the test in a small group setting in a different classroom than the rest of the students.  We went to the school I would be testing at the day before my exam to fill out forms as well, so when I got there, they could immediately start my exam.  Since I had triple time on each section on the test, the sooner I started the exam, the sooner the exam would be over.  I had triple time for all of my sections, and while I was approved to take the exam over the course of several days, I chose to take it all in one day.

I received a large-text test booklet with 18-point Arial font, and the testing coordinator transferred the responses from my booklet to the answer document.  I was allowed to mark in my test booklet, and use my colored pens and highlighters for the test.  I had two desks that I used to spread out materials, and the lights were replaced with lamps in the testing room to reduce the risk of flickering fluorescent lights.  I took a break between each section, but never left the classroom.

I was approved to use the myScript calculator app on my iPad with guided access enabled, so I couldn’t access the internet or any other apps.  I also was permitted to use a magnifier and a blank 3 x 5 index card for tracking text.  The index card was especially helpful when tracking math and science text.  I was not allowed to use a computer for any section except for the writing section- I used Microsoft Word and had spell check and the internet disabled.

I received my scores about six weeks after everyone else, as is typical for most large print exams.  One thing I liked is that I was able to see how I did in individual sections, and it was relatively easy to send scores to the colleges I applied to.  Overall, I would recommend taking both the ACT and SAT tests, and filing for accommodations several weeks in advance, and submitting every piece of documentation you could possibly think of.


SAT Accommodations for Low Vision

I remember when I walked in to take my SAT.  The day before, my mom and I, along with the testing coordinator for the school I was taking the exam at, spent at least an hour filling out a variety of pretesting forms and filling out my information on what seemed like several dozen pieces of paper.  Keeping track of all those forms seemed to be more stressful than taking the exam.  When testing day came, the testing coordinator gathered all of the forms and signaled for my mom and I to come to the front of the line so I could be escorted to testing.  As my mom and I walked forward, a bunch of parents started yelling at us for cutting the line and seeming like we were more important than everyone else.  They started asking what was wrong with us as I was walking away with the testing coordinator.  To answer their question, there isn’t anything “wrong” with me, I was just a student who received accommodations for my vision impairment.

We filed for my accommodations at least twelve weeks in advance.  While I had taken an AP Exam in the past, the College Board had us resubmit my accommodations because we had to make some minor changes.  My accommodations were approved in a reasonable amount of time, and I didn’t have to worry about rescheduling.

I took my test in a small classroom where I was the only student, with at least two staff members present.  The overhead lights in the classroom were turned off and replaced with lamps to help with my light sensitivity.  I had a giant table to work on my test, and there were computers in the classroom for when it came time to type my essay.  I received short, frequent breaks to stretch my legs and walk around the classroom, since I was prone to leg spasms.

The test itself was in 22 point Arial font and came in a spiral-bound book on 8.5″ x 11″ paper.  The paper was thick so I didn’t have to worry about the colored Sharpie pens I used bleeding through and obstructing my view of answer choices.  Images were enlarged 250%, and math notation such as exponents were enlarged as well.

As for assistive technologies, I used my personal iPad with the app myScript calculator, a calculator that calculates equations that the student writes with their finger and that supports large print.  There were no graphing capabilities on this calculator.  Guided Access was enabled for the duration of the exam so that I could not access the internet or other apps during the test.  I also had access to Microsoft Word 2013 with the dictionary, encyclopedia, and internet functions disabled, for the essay portion of my exam.  The essay was printed after I finished typing.  If I could go back in time, I would have also used a CCTV device as an extra support during my exam for when I had trouble seeing smaller items.

I received time and a half on the exam, which was adequate for me.  I also did not fill out the bubble sheet for the exam, instead having a paraprofessional do it after I had completed testing and left the building.  It’s worth noting that I did not receive my scores at the same time as everyone else who tested on the same day as me- I believe I had to wait an additional 4-6 weeks, as is common with most standardized tests that are in an accessible format.

Below, I have outlined my official accommodations for the exam:

  • Large print, size 22 Arial point font
  • Graphics enlarged to 250%
  • Extended time- 150%
  • Use of pens on the exam
  • Word processing software
  • Extra/untimed breaks
  • Use of alternative calculator
  • Small group testing environment

Overall, taking my SAT exam went incredibly smoothly, and I was able to score very well and get into my top choice college, as well as my second choice.  I am grateful that it was a relatively stress-free experience in taking my exam…well, about as stress-free as taking a SAT can be.

All About AIM-VA

When I was in high school, I was unable to read the textbooks that my teachers used in class. Since my middle school didn’t use textbooks, I was surprised to find out that I had to work with them so much. Because the books were older, I was unable to find copies of them to purchase digitally. Thankfully, I was able to use AIM-VA to receive accessible digital copies of my textbooks.

Accessible Instructional Materials Virginia, also known as AIM-VA, is an organization affiliated with the Department of Education that provides accessible materials, not just textbooks, to students with IEPs and print disabilities across the state of Virginia. Each state has their own version of this program. Through their service, I was able to receive math, science, Spanish, and English textbooks. The math and science textbooks were the most important because each letter, number, and symbol is important, as opposed to English where the brain can miss a letter while reading and still understand what word is on the page. I benefitted tremendously from these textbooks, and have written some tips on how to help other students benefit from receiving services from AIM-VA as well.

Order early

Textbooks can be ordered for the next school year starting in late March. Once your schedule is finalized, I recommend placing the order. Some textbooks can be downloaded instantly, others may require processing time. Do not wait until a month into the school year to order textbooks- after all, shouldn’t all students get their textbooks at the same time, not just the sighted ones?

Order ALL the books

Math and science are just as important as English and history. If someone can’t see small letters, they can’t see small numbers either. Also remember that some classes may use multiple textbooks, and it helps to have all materials available. These materials come at no cost to the school, so why not order everything the student will need?

Think beyond textbooks

Do you use workbooks? How about music books? AIM-VA can make all of these materials accessible, even materials used in the classroom such as worksheets and pamphlets that the school might not know how to make accessible- for example, I once had a map enlarged so large, I had to stretch the paper out in the hallway so I could work on the assignment.

Choose a software

Good old Adobe reader works great for reading textbooks, but not all students may be able to take a laptop to school. Back up files to storage solutions such as Google Drive (and ensure they are deleted after the student is done using them for the year). That way, the materials are available on any device, and can also be input into programs like Notability, which allows students to easily read and annotate documents.

My experience

The textbooks and workbooks I receive from AIM-VA were very high quality, and I was able to easily follow along in class using my laptop. Since my first high school did not have wifi available for students, I especially appreciated that the files were available to be downloaded offline so I didn’t have to worry about losing access to the files. AIM-VA is a great resource, and ensures that students with print disabilities have the right to read in an accessible format alongside their peers.

Accommodations For Print Materials

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 how I requested print materials in my high school classrooms.

As a student with low vision who attended public school, I have learned a lot about how to make print and digital materials accessible for me. Here is how I requested print materials for different classes that I took in the classroom. I will have more in depth posts for each subject, as well as my virtual classes, on the blog at some point.


22 point bold Arial font, on 8.5 x 11 paper in either light blue or light yellow. Graphics were never much of an issue here, normally I would request high resolution digital files if they were necessary. I received books through Bookshare and Barnes and Noble.


22 point bold Arial font, on 11 x 17 off white paper. Maps were outlined in black Sharpie and the symbols were enlarged 500%. I received high resolution graphics on my laptop as well as on the class projector. My teacher found that the larger format benefitted all students, and a handful of students even discovered they needed glasses. This class did not use textbooks.

Spanish/foreign language

22 point bold Arial font on 8.5 x 11 blue/yellow paper. Accent marks were outlined in black Sharpie. Pictures were often eliminated, and occasionally there would be alt text available. I received textbooks and workbooks through AIM-VA.


22 point bold Arial font on 11 x 17 blue/yellow paper. I had a specific accommodation to use Sharpie pens instead of pencils. Graphs were either presented as high resolution images or outlined in black Sharpie. I received textbooks from AIM-VA.


22 point bold Arial font on 11 x 17 blue paper. Graphs and images were presented digitally. I also was always partnered with a friend I had known for a long time when it came to labs, since they were used to me having low vision and could make sure I didn’t burn the school down or break items. I received textbooks through AIM-VA and Amazon.


Music enlarged 250%-300% on 11 x 17 off white paper that was cut into segments for easier page turns. Dynamics and other markings were highlighted with black Sharpie. I also received music digitally that my director scanned in. I read it on my iPad and simply zoomed in on the images while playing.

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.

What I’ve Learned About Print Disabilities

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 sharing things I wish I knew about having a print disability back when I was in high school, and things I have used.

I was at a doctor’s appointment this summer when my mom noticed that I kept confusing the letters B and D on the eye chart, as well as a few other letters. She asked me afterwards if those letters looked like they were the same to me when they were on their own, and I said yes. She then asked me if that’s why I always had issues with matching questions on tests, where the student writes a letter to match a word and a definition. Suddenly, it all made sense as to why I always seemed to miss questions that seemed so simple. While I could distinguish the letters B and D when they were in a word (since the brain doesn’t read every single letter), I had trouble distinguishing them on their own. My mom then jokingly told me I could have been valedictorian if we figured this out sooner, and I pointed out “it’s hard to be valedictorian if you don’t know the alphabet.”

Following this conversation, I started thinking about things I wish I would have known sooner about having a print disability, and tools that have helped me succeed in high school and college. Here are ten things I thought of, and how they help me.

Explaining what a print disability is

A print disability affects a person who cannot read normal materials because of a visual, learning, or other disability. I have low vision and cannot read anything smaller than size 24 point font, and have trouble with serif fonts such as Times New Roman. A great simulation to show someone how I see printed materials is to tell them to slant their eyelids with their fingers and look down. I also found that this YouTube video sums up what happens when someone hands me materials I cannot see, in a comedic way.

Portable CCTVs

How I wish I had one of these when I had to do chemistry worksheets, but this device has been fantastic in many of my college classes. Read my full review of the SmartLux here.

Use colorful language

No, this isn’t to say use swear words, but incorporating color into accessible materials has allowed me to really absorb more information. One thing that has really helped me in math is outlining letters and numbers in different colors- A is red, 2 is blue, C is green, 4 is purple, etc. This helps prevent me from confusing symbols and lets me easily see exponents and symbols that are traditionally smaller.

Colored backgrounds

It’s easier on the eyes to read things on a colored background as opposed to sharp white, since sharp white can cause glare. My backpack was nicknamed “bag of rainbows” because I used pink, blue, yellow, and purple colored papers for my schoolwork. It helped to reduce eye fatigue and I noticed I could read much faster than on bright white paper.

Larger paper for math, science, and music.

When it comes to math and science, it is very important not to cut off any symbols, since that can dramatically change the information presented. The same goes with music, where having one note cut off can throw off the entire piece. As a result, I receive my math and science work on 11 x 17 paper, with a colored background, and my music on the same sized paper, requesting the paper be either off white or yellow because I wear sunglasses while playing.


I am not a Braille reader, however I have found that tactile labels and textured markers have really helped me with processing information on a page. Typically, I layer washi tape on top of graphics to provide extra contrast. Another cool trick I learned is to trace white glue over lines or graphs so that way I can feel what is on the page without it being overly obvious. This is especially great when it comes to working with items on a number line.


When working with digital materials, I assign different patterns on lines (zig zag, dashes, squiggle) and have them in different colors so I can see where they intersect and what type of lines they are. This has been especially useful in my database programming class while working with Microsoft Visio, where different ends of lines give important information and lots of lines are intersecting.


I was one of the first people to buy the Barnes and Noble Nook when it came out when I was in seventh grade. It allowed me to read almost any book I could think of, all in glorious large print. It had a cellular data connection too, so I could download a book in thirty seconds, which was extremely helpful when the teacher would randomly assign us books to read. eReaders are so inexpensive now that it would be insane not to have one. Here is the model I use now.


I love Bookshare, but there are so many other services to read books for free. Here is a post I wrote about services at local libraries to help people with print disabilities. Using all of these tools, I have only ever encountered one book that I ever had to read in print in the last five years.
Another great resource is accessible instructional materials organizations. My state has AIM-VA, which will enlarge textbooks, classroom materials, and more for students with an IEP for print disabilities. 

Digital formats for assignments

I have an entire post on why I prefer my schoolwork digitally, and it helps to make sure materials are in an accessible format before giving them to a student. I request that teachers give me materials in .doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, or if absolutely necessary, .png or .pdf. I find it easier to have editing capabilities so I can quickly fix materials if I find them difficult to see, but have rarely had any problems with .pdf or .png formats, as long as I can see them clearly.

To answer a common question, I do not mind having a print disability, and I don’t necessarily feel like I am “missing out on the world” because I have one. I have never been able to read small fonts, so I don’t know life any other way. With all of these technologies and different techniques, I am able to access materials just like my sighted friends, and read alongside them.

How To Buy Digital Textbooks

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Today, let’s talk about textbooks.

Once upon a time, I received digital textbooks in high school that didn’t have pictures, charts, or graphs. This was particularly stressful, especially in my chemistry class where those are a pretty big deal. Because the textbook was out of date, my mom was able to purchase a cheap used copy, rip the book apart, and scan it in, page by page, into the computer so that I would be able to access it digitally (note- this is legal), a process that was very time consuming. Now, there are many options for digital textbooks that not only contain all of the same things the print copies do, but also can be enlarged clearly, highlighted, annotated, and more. I’m lucky to go to a college that embraces digital textbooks and technology in the classroom for everyone, regardless of their level of sight, as digital textbooks become the wave of the future. Just make sure you will get the same access codes and other material as the people who buy print textbooks do. Here are the digital textbook services I have used in college so far.  

1. Amazon Kindle– This app is at the top because it is my most used app. It’s easy to find digital textbooks at reasonable prices here, and even large textbooks can be downloaded in under a minute. The images are clear and the book itself can be navigated quickly. Annotations are also easy to search, and the user can create flash cards to help study the material. It also responds flawlessly to display accommodations and zoom on the iPad, and integrates well with VoiceOver.

2. Barnes and Noble Nook– I have purchased digital textbooks from here and order books from the Nook store when they aren’t available elsewhere. The fonts can be customized, as well as their size. In addition, line spacing, background color, margins, and brightness can be adjusted. However, pictures tend to look a little funny if they are small, and the pages take longer to load compared to the Amazon app. It’s easier to read on this app for prolonged periods of time because the user can increase font size and contrast higher, so eye strain is reduced.

3. Chegg– Chegg is a textbook service that allows users to rent or buy textbooks and eTextbooks. The built in dictionary and Wikipedia features are great, but the spacing of the display seems awkward as it only displays a quarter of the page at the most. For pages with more than three pictures or graphs, VoiceOver seemed to get a bit confused and skip around. However, the images were high resolution and adapted well to my display accommodations.

4. Apple iBooks- While I haven’t personally used them in college, a lot of my friends swear by iBooks. With videos, animations, and easily enlarged pictures and graphs, it’s very easy to read. Text is clear to read, and it is flawless with VoiceOver. I don’t use it because I am sensitive to flashing lights and flickering effects, and was worried the videos and animations might use those.

5. VitalSource Bookshelf– Two of my professors publish their textbooks on this platform. It was hard to read text on this app because it was scanned in from a print copy so it was lower resolution than an ePub file. It’s easy to pages or take a screenshot to import into Notability, but the images were lower resolution than screenshots from any other app. VoiceOver was impossible to use.

6. Pearson- I have used digital textbooks from Pearson for classes where the teacher had their own website on the Pearson SuccessNet platform. There was no application to view the textbooks on my iPad, as it was Adobe Flash based, so I had to use the computer. However, it is easy to read for long periods on the computer, and there is a large amount of study materials available.

And to answer the debate over whether to rent or buy the textbooks, I choose to buy books that I might use in another class and rent the ones I won’t. Usually, there isn’t a huge price difference when it comes to renting or buying digital textbooks, though digital textbooks are much cheaper than physical books- my sighted friend took my advice last year, and found it was cheaper to buy an iPad and all their textbooks digitally than it was to buy all of the books as physical copies. If a textbook is only available in print, I will use a CCTV to access it or utilize my school assistive technology services to convert the book to a digital format- my school requires a receipt for book purchase and my Office of Disability file in order to convert the book.

Another good thing to remember is to check with the professor about whether it’s okay to buy a newer edition if that’s all that is available digitally. My professors have never seen a problem with it, but it never hurts to check. After all, a textbook with relevant information is almost as important as having a professor that will follow your accommodations. Check back tomorrow for my next post on tips on educating professors on your accommodations!