When I was in middle and high school, my teachers were adamant that all students should use lined paper for math and science classes so that we could write out equations and solve problems on the page. This didn’t work well for me as a student with low vision and dysgraphia, because I couldn’t see the light blue lines on the white paper and also had trouble with writing in a straight line. Using lined paper in the way that other students did made it more difficult for me to take notes and solve equations, not easier.
Many years later, I was tutoring a student with low vision in math, and realized that there were much better strategies for using lined paper with low vision than what my teachers had originally shown me. After testing these strategies with the student and seeing positive results, here are my new favorite strategies for using lined paper with low vision in math and science classes, many of which can also be used by students with dysgraphia.
Start with bold lined paper
I would often color or write outside of lines in school because I had trouble seeing the lines. Bold lines are much easier for me to see, and there are several options for purchasing and printing bold lined paper, which may also be called high contrast note paper, accessible note paper, or large/wide lined paper. Most standard notebook paper has light blue lines against a white page, which is difficult or impossible to read for people with contrast deficiencies, so taking the time to find bold lined paper for low vision that is easy to read can help a lot.
- Bold Line Templates — Statewide Vision Resource Centre (svrc.vic.edu.au)
- Ultimate List of Free Adapted Paper – The OT Toolbox
Turn paper horizontally for math problems
Rotating the note paper sideways will make the page have vertical lines, which is helpful for lining up digits in math problems and ensuring each digit has its own place. This helped the student I worked with a lot, as they were able to focus on each number more easily since it was in its own “home.”
Write subscripts and superscripts on separate lines
When I was in school, my teachers often would write subscripts and superscripts on the same lines in a smaller font size, which was difficult for me to read. As a result, I would read exponents incorrectly or ignore them entirely, and would often get questions wrong.
A better way to write out subscripts and superscripts is to put them on separate lines. When writing equations on bold lined paper, I would reserve three lines for each equation, and write subscripts/superscripts on their own lines above or below the equation, using the same size text as the other characters.
- How I Show Work For Math With Low Vision and Dysgraphia
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
Use a popsicle stick to help with spacing
Number spacing is important when writing equations, and my numbers would often run into each other when I was writing in school, and especially when writing quickly. One way to help with spacing is to use a popsicle stick to create consistent space between sets of numbers/words, so that the individual components are easier to see. This is especially helpful for longer equations in trigonometry, or for lining up subscripts/superscripts.
To write the sample equation “1705+1931” on one line:
- Write 1705
- Place a popsicle stick next to the 5 to create space, then write the plus sign next to the stick
- Place the stick next to the plus sign, and then write 1931 next to it
Reading with a typoscope
A typoscope is a reading and writing tool for low vision that blocks out surrounding text so that the reader can focus on one line or area of the page at a time. This can make it easier to write on a page without going outside of the lines, as well as help with making it easier to focus on text. Typoscopes are generally inexpensive and can be purchased online, though some people may prefer to create their own in a custom size.
Another option is to purchase or 3D print a writing guide, which often has additional lines and can be customized to accommodate different page sizes. I’ve linked a page from MaxiAids with several options.
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- Reading Handwriting With Assistive Technology
- Writing Guides | MaxiAids
Consider writing on a slanted surface
I’ve noticed that my handwriting is much neater when I write on my dry-erase board, because it doesn’t sit flat on my desk- I write on it at an angle. This can make it easier to write on lined paper with low vision, as the student can position their head/eyes at a different angle and hold the page closer to them if needed. Alternatively, the slanted surface may be easier to read under a lined bifocal lens.
Examples of a slanted surface can include writing on top of a 3-inch binder, using a tablet stand or writing stand, or positioning a page on a clipboard for flexible seating. I’ve also had a student use a music stand as a slanted surface!
- Assistive Technology For Dysgraphia
- No-Tech Solutions For Drawing Graphs With Low Vision And Dysgraphia
- Ways To Use Music Stands As Assistive Technology
Use digital lined paper templates
Instead of having me write on paper, one of my teachers had me use a digital lined paper template in an app like Notability, which was easier for me to zoom in on or erase. This option works really well for me, since I find it easier to zoom in on a page instead of repositioning my head or using a magnifying glass, and I can also use other line guides as needed. Plus, I have virtually unlimited space for writing and don’t have to think about whether I will run out of space to write.
- Notability and Low Vision
- How I Use Microsoft Whiteboard With Low Vision
- Why I Prefer My Schoolwork Digitally: Updated Edition
Additional math resources for low vision
Looking for more free math resources for low vision? Here are some related posts on Veronica With Four Eyes:
- Math Test Accommodations For Low Vision
- Ways To Use Teleprompter Apps As Assistive Technology
- My Favorite Free Math Websites For Low Vision
- Five Accessible Calculator Apps For Low Vision
- How To Create An Accessible Formula Sheet
- Five Apps I Use In The Science Classroom As A Low Vision Student