Bigger is Not Always Better: Understanding Magnification

When is too much magnification detrimental? Is there an alternative?

Students who have functional vision should certainly use their vision and – when appropriate – low vision tools. For educational tasks, some students with low vision may use vision as their primary learning medium – with or without magnification. Countless students successfully take full advantage of a variety of magnification tools and low vision devices; with these tools, vision is their primary learning medium. Other students are most successful with braille and/or auditory (screen readers) as their primary learning medium. Many of these braille and/or auditory students may use their vision to supplement the braille or auditory especially for tasks such as viewing an image or a math problem. Keep in mind, different tools are used to accomplish different tasks!

Just because a student CAN use his vision, does not mean he SHOULD rely on his vision for every educational task every day. Often students are observed who are leaning over – mere inches – from their tablet, computer or printed paper. For a quick glance at the materials, this may be fine. However, asking the student to maintain that posture all day or to complete an assignment will cause physical issues related to the posture. The solution may be as simple as using an articulating stand to position the materials at the desired height and location. Another option might be using larger font size, magnification device, or magnification software. Eye fatigue and related headaches/migraines are common occurrences for students with low vision. However, careful consideration should be made as to how much magnification is appropriate for different educational tasks.

Bigger is Better – Right?

Tablets and computers all have built-in large print and magnification features as well as additional magnification apps and software applications. For this discussion and activity, we will use an iPad; however, the same concepts apply to any device. 

When schools began adopting the iPad, TVIs were over-the-moon with the simplicity of iOS for young students and the built-in accessibility features. Students could choose their preferred low vision features and settings, to make their educational materials instantly accessible. 

While some students use large print font and then choose to pinch out to view an image or specific item, other students may successfully use magnification (Zoom) all the time. The native Zoom app on the iPad can currently be magnified 1x to 15x. Like all good things, moderation is the key! 

Zoom Activity

Why not Zoom to the max? To fully understand the issues, try the following activities.  

Note: These activities are beneficial for classroom teachers, family members and even administrators; and, these activities can be used in conjunction with an IEP meeting or as a teacher in-service at the beginning of the year activity.

Home Screen Zoom Activity

Was that an easy or challenging activity? Were you lost on the screen? How efficient were you in finding the desired app?

The video below demonstrates the Zoom Scrolling Activity.

Reading Zoom Activity

This activity requires a document or article. If using the activity with educators/family members, choose a document that is a recent or upcoming homework assignment. (If you do not have a document, you can use the attached Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse PDF.) The document can be a Pages document or can be an Internet article; the only requirement is that the document is at least one paragraph. Ideally, use a document that has multiple choice questions at the end. If sharing this activity with a group, use a document camera to display the iPad’s screen so that everyone can see.

Did anyone get dizzy? How was your efficiency (speed)? Comprehension? Would you want to read War and Peace like that?

The video below demonstrates the Zoom Reading Activity.

Assignment Zoom Activity

Now try completing an assignment – answering questions – with Zoom enable to the max. (For demonstration purposes, questions can be answered verbally.) If possible, use an assignment from your student’s classroom or use the questions from the worksheet in the previous Reading Zoom Activity.

The next video demonstrates the Zoom Assignment Activity.


Using low vision tools are definitely beneficial for many students with low vision. However, if a student has to scroll across the screen in order to read, then another learning medium should be investigated. Scrolling is not optimal for reading longer passages in a timely manner. Often smart students can slide by in K12 with low vision devices and/or scrolling but these same students struggle significantly in keeping up with the quantity of reading required in college and in future careers. Having to magnify materials to such an extent that requires scrolling is a strong indicator that a screen reader should be used. Another indicator is if a student is unable to read at the same rate as his peers. Also, does your student read printed books for pleasure? If not, why not? If a student is a slow visual reader or is scrolling to read, a screen reader will significantly increase the student’s reading speed. According to research, students reading large print are 1.5 – 2 times slower readers than their peers. (See Reading Rates post). A slightly more up-to-date Do You Read Fast Enough to Be Successful? Forbes article states an increase in reading rates of average students with vision:

What does that mean? On average, undergraduate classes typically require at least 3 hours a week study time per credit or 9 hours a week per 3 credit course. (Much of that study time includes reading; however, “reading” is not broken out separately.) If a student with low vision averages 1.5 – 2x longer, that would mean at least 13.5 – 18 hours per week per 3 credit class. In high school, the research states an average of 1 – 3.5 hours a night on homework; that translates into 1.5 – 7 hours a night for a low vision student to complete the same assignments!?! (See the article, Parents, Are There Enough Hours in the Day for THAT Much Homework?) Does your low vision student complete all of his assignments? What if you could flip things and make your low vision student the fastest reader in his class and cut homework time in half – compared to the time his peers spend on homework? A low vision student who efficiently uses a screen reader is able to read faster than his peers. (See posts about reading 600 words per minute.) Talk to any successful professional who is visually impaired and ask what tools make him successful? The guaranteed answer is strong tech skills and a fast screen reader.

Note: Screen reader skills – including fast speeds – should be mastered early; ideally before high school and at the very least, before college begins. Tech skills and speed should not be introduced freshman year of college. The same time frame holds true for students who are currently successful with low vision tools but who have progressive eye conditions.

Collage of Bigger is not always Better

Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner

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