As a component of having low vision, I was diagnosed with a print disability when I was in elementary school, though I didn’t know exactly what a print disability was until I was in high school or early college. As part of the requirements for one of my undergraduate assistive technology classes, I created a reference document that shared what I’ve learned about print disabilties and helpful things to know for students that have a print disability, and today will be sharing an updated version of that document, which has been adapted as a blog post.
What is a print disability?
A print disability is defined as the inability to read standard print due to a visual, perceptual, physical, cognitive, developmental, or learning disability. People with print disabilities use alternative access methods or assistive technology to read physical or digital printed materials, which can encompass a variety of different methods including Braille, large print, audio formats, adapted reading displays, or a combination of multiple formats.
Some examples of conditions frequently associated with print disabilities include:
- Visual impairment, inclusive of blind/low vision
- Visual processing disorder
- Learning disabilities such as dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities
- Traumatic brain injury
- Physical conditions that impact the ability to hold a book
What is standard print?
Standard print is defined as printed or digital text materials that do not have any additional modifications to make them easier to see. Standard print is typically around 10 to 12 point font (or 16x in browsers) and can be either a serif (e.g. Times New Roman) or sans serif (e.g. Arial). Some examples of standard print include a book off the shelf, a newspaper, or a website with default zoom settings enabled.
How a print disability is diagnosed
A print disability is not a separate disability classification, rather it refers to a person’s functional ability to interact with printed materials. Assessments for print disability are usually done in conjunction with other diagnostic tests or assessments. As a person with low vision, I was diagnosed with a print disability by a low vision ophthalmologist who worked with me to figure out the minimum font size that I could see, and introduced me to several assistive technology options that would work well for me. When I was in school, they also wrote a list of accommodations they would recommend for me in the classroom, such as 22 pt font on assignments- more on that later.
Assistive technology for print disabilities
A lot of the assistive technology I use in my day-to-day life is related to print disabilities, as I spend a lot of time reading. I have written extensively about assistive technology for print disabilities on my website, but some of my favorite options include:
- Use of magnification aids such as magnifying glasses, magnification software, or video magnifiers
- Simplified reading displays that apply a consistent font size, style, and background color to digital content
- Text-to-speech tools that read text out loud
- Line guides or trackers for following along with text
- Scanning pens or visual assistance apps that can scan in text
- Fonts that are designed for improved readability
- Preferring digital formats for printed materials over physical copies
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
- How To Make Historical Documents Accessible For Low Vision
- Why I Prefer My Schoolwork Digitally: Updated Edition
Classroom accommodations for print disabilities
Assistive technology is an important component of managing print disabilities, though there are other accommodations that can support students in the classroom, whether that is in a K-12 or higher education classroom. Common classroom accommodations for print disabilties include:
- Extended time for assignments, quizzes, and tests
- Large print, audio, or Braille formats for text
- Copies of notes/information presented at a distance
- Use of high-tech devices such as a laptop or tablet for reading
- All About Extended Time Accommodations
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
The most helpful accommodation for me- use of color to convey information
While I have trouble with poor contrast colors, my color vision is generally considered intact and I find it helpful to use color as another way of conveying information. Some examples of how this has been implemented in the classroom include:
- Having different colored highlighted lines for answer choices on multiple choice/select multiple answers questions. This helped me clearly distinguish between which answers were A, B, C, or D
- Labeling dynamics and other markings on sheet music by adding colored outlines
- Adding colors to arithmetic operators, i.e a red circle is over a plus sign, a blue circle over a minus sign, etc
- Different colored underlines for abbreviations in a chemical equation, which helped with keeping track of different symbols
- Using a colored overlay or tinted background to decrease eyestrain
In many cases, I would confirm with my teachers about which answer choices were which, or read back an equation to ensure I was reading it correctly, and add these colors myself using colored pens or a digital stylus. Other times, my teachers would add the labels for me beforehand or would borrow my pens to ensure items were labeled properly.
Where to find accessible books for print disabilities
Even though my print disability limits my access to printed materials, there are several options for finding accessible books for print disabilties, not only for academic reading but also for more “fun” books. Some of my favorite resources for finding free or low-cost accessible books for print disabilties include:
- For K-12 educational materials in the US, each state has their own accessible educational materials production organization that provides copies of textbooks, assignments, and other school materials in accessible formats at no cost to the school. In Virginia, this organization is AIM-VA (and they are really awesome)
- Learning Ally provides audiobooks and audio formats of textbooks for students in K-12 and college
- Bookshare is an online accessible library that allows users to download content in multiple accessible formats. The Bookshare library has over a million titles and often posts new releases on the same day they become available
- Mainstream eReaders and eReading applications have several features for making books easier to read
- Libraries from all over the world have started offering eBook versions of many of their titles that cardholders can check out for free and read on their own devices
- Many colleges and universities have accessible educational materials production sites for making textbooks and assignments in accessible formats for students- I have an entire post on this process linked below
- All About AIM-VA
- Fast Facts About Bookshare
- Reading Magazines With The Libby App And Low Vision
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
- US Government Programs For Blind/Low Vision Residents
Other tips and resources for print disabilities
- Audio-Supported Reading (ASR) is a technique that combines text-to-speech and Braille/large print for improved reading comprehension. Many readers who use ASR can read 600 words per minute, or even more!
- While dysgraphia is not considered a print disability, people that have dysgraphia may also have a print disability and benefit from having copies of information presented at a distance, or have difficulty with copying printed information
- Many accessible educational materials services require students to have an IEP or college Disability Services file. 504 plans are generally not eligible
- I mention Braille in this post, but don’t use it myself as I have limited sensitivity in my hands due to a neurological condition. For students that have the option to learn Braille, I recommend taking the time to learn it as it is a great tool to have for accessing information