Loose leaf paper with lines.

Paper size and low vision

How and why I request certain paper sizes for different document types, and my preferred types of paper as a student with low vision.

The other day, I was having a conversation with a teacher of the visually impaired about paper and document sizes for people with low vision. They were wondering how I would choose what documents would be on what size paper, and how I would store my assignments or other documents once I received them. Today, I will be sharing how I use different sizes and types of paper when accessing materials inside and outside the classroom. All measurements are in inches.

Paper sizes

3 x 3

Sticky notes are an easy way to put reminders on documents or on a door, but I can’t see what people write if they don’t follow what my friend calls proper sticky note etiquette. Proper sticky note etiquette involves using a marker to write across the note and fill up all available space so that it can be easily read no matter where it is on the board. If I can’t read a sticky note though, I will usually use my phone to magnify it or use another app.

4 x 6

I have had quite a few teachers who encouraged students to outline information about a paper using 4 x 6 index cards or small pieces of paper. Like sticky notes, I try to write as large as possible on index cards, though my dysgraphia makes this a bit more difficult. When I am reading information off of an index card, it must be written in bold high-contrast marker or ink, or I will have trouble distinguishing the letters.

If a teacher says that we are allowed to take notes on a notecard to use on an exam, I typically request that I be allowed to either write on a larger piece of paper or use a digital document on my iPad with Guided Access enabled.

8.5 x 11

The most familiar of the paper sizes, I get most assignments on this type of paper since it is the standard size for printers. My font size preferences have changed as my vision loss has progressed, but right now I typically request size 36 pt font for printed materials. If I have to write on top of a document, I prefer for it to be in a digital format so that I can better control the size of my handwriting and/or ensure the document layout is not impacted by having the print enlarged.

11 x 14

My music for pep band is enlarged on 11 x 14 paper so that I can easily put my face close to a page and balance my music on a standard sized music stand. I chose this paper size because I wanted to have my music with a vertical layout (more on that later) and so I could take advantage of as much space on the page as possible. This is a great paper size for enlarging documents traditionally printed on 8.5 x 11 paper.

11 x 17

This is the largest paper size that I typically receive, because otherwise it gets difficult to write on my desk. I use 11 x 17 paper for math and science assignments, or assignments that feature lots of detailed networks or graphics. However, it still needs to have size 36 point font printed on it in order for me to be able to read it- I’ve definitely been presented documents with larger paper but smaller font that have been ineffective at helping me read what’s on the paper.

Related links

Paper characteristics

Type/texture of paper

Whenever possible, I love to write on cardstock paper so that I don’t have to worry about having my pens bleed through. As for reading, I am less picky about the type of paper as long as it isn’t glossy or reflective, since that can be disorienting for me. Color is more important to me than the texture of the paper.

Horizontal or vertical?

I prefer to have large amounts of texts printed vertically, or on a portrait layout, and I will naturally write in a portrait layout when handwriting notes since I find it easier to anchor the paper on my desk. However, when it comes to math or science, I request that materials be printed in a horizontal or landscape format, with images or equations enlarged to fit the width of the paper. This is because most graphics are designed to be horizontal and are difficult to enlarge on a vertical document without losing information or image quality.

Paper color

Yes, paper color matters! I actually did an entire science project when I was 17 about how much color can have an impact on the readability of text. I like to read on soft yellow or blue backgrounds since those help to decrease glare on paper.

Lines or no lines

I used to be able to see lines on lined paper, but that ability disappeared around the same time I stopped being able to read pencil on paper because there was such little contrast. Plus, with dysgraphia, I have trouble writing in a straight line anyway. I prefer to work with unlined paper whenever possible and explain that I can’t see lines on traditional paper if people ask why.

High contrast note paper

For people who are in need of high contrast, large, or accessible note paper and graph paper, there are free printables available online, as well as accessible paper products that can be purchased through assistive technology stores. I wish that I had access to accessible graph paper when I was in middle school, and have found it extremely helpful in my college math classes. Just run a web search for accessible paper and browse your options.

Related links

Final thoughts

I never thought about how much having access to the right paper can make a difference for me when it comes to accessible materials, and I’m glad that teacher of the visually impaired encouraged me to think about the topic. However, I try not to focus too much on the paper itself, and prefer to see what’s written on it, or think of what I can write on it. I hope this post is helpful for people looking to learn more about paper size and low vision, and choosing the right paper for low vision.

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated September 2023; original post published September 2019.

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