Cartoon male teacher pointing to the classroom chalkboard.

How to make things on the board easier to see

Improving the readability of text on whiteboards, document cameras and computer projectors for low vision students.

When I showed my Python professor my Disability Services file on the first day of classes, one of their first questions was how to make things on the board easier to see, as they weren’t sure if I would be able to read some of their notes on the board. I am so glad they asked me this question, and I ended up creating a list of tips for how to present information at a distance that I’ve shared with my other professors. Here are my tips for how to make things on the board easier to see, from the perspective of a student with low vision.

Using a whiteboard/dry erase board

Write with vibrant colored markers

Whenever my professors write material on the board with faded markers, or with light colored markers in colors like green or orange, I find the board difficult to read or make a lot of errors when copying notes because the colors provide poor contrast. I ask my professors to write on the board using black, red, or blue markers that are easy to see and that provide high contrast against the white or off-white background of the dry erase board.

Avoid writing in script

One of my friends with a learning disability was talking to me about how they could never figure out what the teacher was writing when they used script or cursive writing on the board. Another one of my friends agreed, saying that it was difficult to tell what someone was writing when all of the letters ran into each other. Plus, students with both diagnosed and undiagnosed vision issues alike could get very frustrated reading the board. I have requested for my professors to use print handwriting whenever possible when writing on the board. My friends have also requested that material on the board be rewritten if they find it is too hard to read.

Describe diagrams as they are drawn

A while ago, my professor was drawing a complex diagram on the board. They figured that everyone in the class could see the difference between the similar looking shapes on the board. When it came time for us to practice, they were very surprised to see that a lot of us had drawn the diagram incorrectly, and almost everyone who had drawn it incorrectly wore glasses or contacts. It helps me a lot when my professors describe what they are drawing so that I can follow along, and I appreciate when they distinguish between shapes by using different colored markers or shading in patterns.

Let people take pictures of the screen

I use the whiteboard camera function in Microsoft Office OneNote very frequently to create an OCR file that I can add to my notes easily. I know someone else who will take pictures of the board so that they can write out the notes later. There are other students who take pictures of the board so that they can study for the test better. Before erasing the board, give students the opportunity to take a picture of the board so they can use the information later.

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Using a document camera

Write with pens instead of pencil

Gray pencil lead on white paper (or any other paper color) can be very difficult to read. Text tends to look very faded or washed out on the screen. If something has to be erased, then the paper can become more difficult to read due to the shadow of what was erased. I have requested that pen be used when someone is writing on the document camera for better contrast, and many other students have done the same in my classes. Sometimes, I have professors borrow a pen from me while writing notes so I can ensure that I am able to read what’s on the board.

Zoom in on sections

When writing on a document camera, it can be tempting to display the entire page at once. Many students prefer that a document be zoomed in on to a specific section so that they can focus easier. This is especially helpful for students with print disabilities who can be overwhelmed or confused by a large amount of text. My professors have students raise their hands or use some other signal to show when they are done copying down information so that they can move on to another section.

Consider using a colored background

Did you know that colored backgrounds can improve the readability of text? It’s true, studies show that it’s easier to read text on a colored background because there is less glare. One of my professors uses yellow and blue paper when writing on the document camera, and it is so much easier to read, especially when they use dark colored pens to write.

Scan in a copy of the notes

My math professors will scan in copies of notes that combine typed text and handwritten text so that students can easily reference material. However, some professors don’t like to have class notes available to everyone. If this is the case, I will request to see the copy of the class notes from the day and scan it in using Microsoft Office Lens. This way, my professor doesn’t have to scan it in and send it to me.

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Using a computer projector

Use the magnifying tool for small text

My Java professor frequently uses a program called JGrasp for coding examples. While most of JGrasp can be enlarged, the dialog boxes feature very small text. To fix this, my professor uses the built in Windows Magnifier tool to increase the size of the dialog box. All of the students have been happy with not having to squint so much to read text. Another option is to use the Repl.It IDE for typing coding examples and sharing a link for the workspace to students, or enabling large print.

Increase the display size of the computer

By using Windows 10 accessibility settings, a user can make an entire display larger, or adjust specific elements. Increasing the size of the cursor/mouse pointer as well as increasing the size of text can help make reading and following along easier on everyone’s eyes.

Enable a blue light filter

Have you ever stared at a screen so long that you thought your eyes were going to fall out of your head? This can be due to the blue light emitted by computers and other displays. This can contribute to eye fatigue and minor eye pain. Try enabling a blue light filter for the computer display, or check to see if your projector has a blue light filter option.

Use a simplified reading display

Another option for making large amounts of text easier to read is to use a simplified reading display, which applies a consistent font size, font style, and background color to digital text. This makes it easier to read content without having to zoom in on a page, edit content, or enabling other accessibility settings. A popular choice for my professors is the Microsoft Immersive Reader.

Create accessible documents

When creating documents in software such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint, it’s important to make them accessible for users with disabilities. Adding items such as alt text and image descriptions, and avoiding certain animations and colors, can make all the difference when reading and accessing materials.

Related links

More tips for how to make things on the board easier to see

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023; original post published February 2018

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