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. I believed a lot of different myths about print disabilities and saw them perpetuated by professions in the special education and disability services fields, and it wasn’t until I worked with an organization for students with print disabilities that I learned how to fully explain what a print disability is and the effect it can have on someone’s ability to access information. Here are five myths about print disabilities I used to believe or have seen others believe, along with explanations about what a print disability really is.
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:
While font size can play a role in whether someone has a print disability or not, there are other factors that can make standard print accessible that go beyond the size of the text.
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.
While some conditions associated with print disabilities do not affect a person’s ability to read numbers (dyslexia being a common example), many people with print disabilities still need to have accessible materials for math and science classes, or may have difficulty reading numbers. In fact, accessible materials may be even more critical for these subjects as every symbol and number is important- while readers might be able to skip a couple of letters in a word and still guess what it is, this isn’t the case for equations. Another consideration for people that have trouble with reading small font sizes is that subscripts, exponents, and other symbols may be printed in a smaller font size by default, which can lead to readers missing important information.
While some people may have a personal preference for writing or reading information written in all capital letters, this is not generally an effective way to display text for people with print disabilities and does not have any impact on the font size of a word. Some examples of text formatting strategies that are helpful for people with print disabilities include increased line spacing, aligning text to the left, and using print disability friendly fonts in documents.
Extended time accommodations are helpful for people with print disabilities, especially when it comes to taking tests or other reading intensive tasks, but staring at an inaccessible document for long periods of time will not make the document more readable. Straining my eyes is not a practical way for me to read something, and if I am handed a document in small print, I will not be able to read it without the use of assistive technology no matter how long I stare at the page.
I encountered this a lot in high school, as teachers would be confused as to why I could see my cell phone but not the board or a copy of an inaccessible assignment. My cell phone has several accessibility settings enabled, including large print, high contrast displays, screen magnification, and other forms of assistive technology that make it possible for me to access information, even with a smaller screen size. One of my teachers tried to argue that my ability to use a phone was evidence that I was exaggerating my low vision, and I took that as an opportunity to show them how I had customized my own technology to fit my needs.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated August 2023; original post published May 2017
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