Students with Low Vision


Contibuting Authors: Katie Beaver & Gail Vaughan

Access for Students with Low Vision

For many students with low vision, using standard educational materials is a daily struggle. Look here for Assistive Technoloy suggestions on adapting educational materials to address many difficulties. We also offer a handout on Vendors of AT devices for students with Low Vision. Another website offers useful information on Aids and Assistive Technology: Library Services for Visually Impaired people.

This section offers a range of solutions for what to do if the:

  • Print size is too small.
  • Contrast of foreground and background is too low.
  • Background is too busy or cluttered to perceive important foreground information.
  • Material is not organized in a direct left to right sequence, making tracking difficult.
  • Student's handwriting is slow and quality is poor, making it difficult to complete assignments on time and to re-read what s/he wrote.
  • Browser window is too small and the pointer is hard to find or use.

Some solutions help the student directly. Others are used to modify classroom materials so the student can independently use them.

For many students with low vision, access to standard educational materials is a daily struggle that often requires adult assistance. NICHY describes visual impairments that can affect education:

  • "Partially sighted" indicates some type of visual problem has resulted in a need for special education.
  • "Low vision" generally refers to a severe visual impairment, not necessarily limited to distance vision. Low vision applies to all individuals with sight who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses. They use a combination of vision and other senses to learn, although they may require adaptations in lighting or the size of print, and, sometimes, Braille.

To make print materials accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, four methods are widely used. These are sometimes referred to as alternate formats:

  • Audiocassettes,
  • Braille,
  • Electronic documents, and
  • Large print.


NOTE: All "APH Photos" Courtesy of the American Printing House for the Blind. All Rights Reserved

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Low Tech Aids

Classroom Tools Reading & Writing Aids Environmental Supports
Enlarged Print

Classroom Tools

Students with low vision often require text materials in large print and/or high contrast, which makes the text easier to read. Strategies can include magnifying text so that it's larger, to moving closer to the source of the text. Several products can assist in typical class activities. Many useful Assistive Technology tools can be found in local stores due to their Universal Design features (such as large button calculators). There are also several excellent online Resources of products designed for students with low vision.

The examples can be used by students in the classroom for different activities.

Large Print CalanderLarge Print Calendar

This Large Print Calendar contains both large print and Braille labels, which can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. (APH Photo)*


Light Box

Visually impaired students can learn to use their residual vision more efficiently by training with APH's Light Box. Materials are used with it to promote basic visual skills, eye-hand coordination and simple matching tasks (APH Photo)

Light Box


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Reading & Writing Aids

Reading and writing activities are intricately related. A child learns to write what he has read. Here are some low-tech Assistive Technology solutions to support a child's visual ability.





  • Felt tip marker with various size tips
  • Steady Write Pen
  • Nite Writer Pen



  • Bold line graph sheets
  • Thick line paper (1/2" ¾")
  • Boldline Spiral Notebook



  • Writing Guide Set
  • EZ Writing Guide/clip board
  • APHont™ computer font for computers



  • Reading Stands
  • Variable Intensity Study Lamp
  • Typoscope
  • Primer: Electronic Magnifier


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Environmental Supports

Lighting can greatly impact a child's ability to see and participate in classroom activities. Don't forget to address lighting and page glare (see below) when setting up a learning environment for a student.



Lamps and lighting are often the key to improved reading. However, what works is very individual. Some students find reading is easiest with very bright directional light illuminating the page. Other students with an identical eye condition, however, prefer low levels of diffused light. Students often prefer fluorescent lights. Check with the child's Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) for information.


Page Glare

Common white paper often reflects a significant glare, which can make the reading process more difficult. Try covering the page with a transparent colored plastic or an acetate sheet, available at stationary stores, to tone down the brightness. Experiment to find the best color for a student.


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Enlarged Print


Large text publications for no, minimal or commercial cost can be found at several sites. You may be required to register; some offer several format options.

Louis (APH book database)
For registered users only

Large Print


Select the type of book and size of font.

Reader's Digest Due to recent legislation mandating that classroom materials be in accessible formats for all students, Large print and audio cassette book formats are also available here.

Harry Potter Book CoverHarry Potter at $6.99
Each book in the Harry Potter book series is available for $6.99; including: Paperback, Audio Cassette (Unabridged), Audio CD (Unabridged) and Large Print.



Video Magnifiers (CCTVs)

CCTV machineFor students with low vision who benefit from large print, a video magnifier (sometimes referred to as a CCTV,) may provide the best access to diagrams, graphs, maps, math, forms and other print material not stored on a computer. Most are stand-alone devices with a moveable table, a camera with a zoom lens, and a monitor. Material is placed on the moveable table under the camera and the image is magnified and displayed on the monitor. There are also portable models that use hand-held cameras or cameras that can use a TV screen as the monitor. For individuals with low vision, careful consideration should be given to providing a full color model as many diagrams and maps incorporate color that impart information. On a black & white model, that information may be lost.

Look for special features of video magnifiers including:

  • Magnification up to 60 times
  • High contrast white on black or black on white
  • Moveable line markers to help keep reading position
  • Full color
  • Selectable foreground & background colors
  • Split screen capability when computer monitor is used as the monitor

Examples of video magnifiers

Aladdin (Telesonsory Corporation)
black & white

Aladdin Rainbow (Telesonsory Corporation)
full color

Aladdin Ultra Pro (Telesonsory Corporation)

ClearView 317 (CTECH)
black & white

ClearView 517 (CTECH)

Flipper Portable System (CTECH)


*NOTE: All "APH Photos" Courtesy of the American Printing House for the Blind.
All Rights Reserved


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copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Using Computers

Monitors Adapting Keyboards

Computers can be useful learning tools for students with low vision. There are several ways to ensure their success.


Monitors come in a variety of sizes. In general, the larger the monitor, the larger the display image. Seventeen-inch monitors are becoming the standard. An even larger (19" or 21") monitor, however, may make using the computer more comfortable. The size of the actual image on the screen depends on the resolution setting and the font size used by the operating system and application programs. When selecting a monitor for students with low vision, keep in mind these points:

  • Monitor size is measured on the diagonal. Actual viewing size is smaller than the diagonal measurement.
  • Larger monitors are heavy and require more table space.
  • Proper placement at eye level is important. (In most cases, monitors should not be placed on top of the computer.)
  • A flat, square screen produces less glare and may make the image easier to see.
  • Dot pitch is one of the principal characteristics that determine the quality of a monitor. The lower the dot pitch, the clearer the display image. Do not purchase a monitor with a dot pitch higher than .28mm.

Monitor Modifications

  • Glare Filters
  • Screen Magnifiers
  • Adjust the Display: Lower the screen resolution to make the images appear larger


Adapting Standard Keyboards

You can modify keyboard keys to make them easier to see and find. Try these suggestions first!

Keytop Labels
Adhesive-backed large-print key labels can economically convert any keyboard to a large print-format. Labels are available in black/white combinations, colors for young children and even blank labels to cover keys. Check the Hoolean site for many options.

photo of keyboard with large-print keys


Tactile Indicators
Adhesive-backed, clear, round dots with a raised bump in the middle are unobtrusive. They may help non-visually impaired typists as well.

Tactile indicators are helpful in positioning the fingers on the home row keys and for quickly finding the left and right WINDOWS keys. They can be found as home row indicators, loc-dots, and bump dots at Hoolean and MaxiAids.

HINT: For beginning computer users, placing a small piece of Velcro on the BACKSPACE, TAB, HOME, and F4 keys (and any other keys troublesome to the student) helps achieve more immediate success. As proficiency increases, these indicators can be removed.


Alternate Keyboards
Students with low vision need to learn touch-typing early on in the writing process. The use of a child-size keyboard with smaller keys makes this task easier.


photo of alternate keyboard
Little Fingers Keyboard

Large Print Keyboards (Hoolean)
The Hoolean website offers a variety of keyboards made with key labels twice the normal size.

Large Print Keyboard

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Computer Positioning Checklist

Use these positioning guidelines when considering the placement of the computer and student with low vision in the classroom.





Make sure the monitor and keyboard are in visual range to reduce glare. Position the monitor at a 90-degree angle to an outside window.

Position the monitor so the top of the screen is at the student's eye level.



Overhead lighting should be dim and indirect to prevent glare that can cause eyestrain.

Use an individual lamp to illuminate a copy stand.

Consider using a removable anti-glare screen.


Student Chair

Use a chair that fits the student's body size and has an adjustable seat height. Feet should rest firmly on the floor. Use a footrest if needed.


Table: Computer

A table or desk that is adjustable in height can help correctly position the computer and keyboard.


Table: Student

Forearms should be parallel to the floor and wrists should be straight.

Position the mouse at the height of the keyboard.

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Accessibility Options

Computer Operating Systems Internet Browsers

Computer Operating Systems

The operating systems of both Windows-based and Macintosh computers have built-in accessibility features to assist students with visual impairments. We have provided a handout explaining how to adjust the Windows Operating System for Students with Vision Impairments.



On a Windows-based computer system, the entire display interface is customizable.

  • Sizes and colors of window titles, scroll bars, borders, menu text, icons, and other elements can be adjusted. High-contrast schemes and modes make it easier to see screen objects.
  • The mouse pointer can be resized to normal, large, or extra-large. Customizing pointer color or adding mouse tails or animation also increases the pointer's visibility.

Microsoft Magnifier is a display utility that makes the screen more readable for some students with low vision. A magnified portion of the screen displays in a separate window. For word processing, this program works much better with Word Pad than it does with Microsoft Word. View an example of Microsoft Magnifier in Windows 98 or ME.



Universal Access Tools are utility programs that come with every copy of Mac OS. They make the computer system more accessible to individuals with disabilities. While the current version of the operating system does not allow the student to increase the size of the menus, scroll bars or mouse pointer, it does provide a magnification program called "CloseView." CloseView magnifies screen contents up to 16 times. We provide information on Installing CloseView.


Internet Browsers

Internet Explorer

Did you know? You can customize the look of Internet Explorer screens in a number of ways including:

  • Changing font size, style, and color,
  • Reducing screen clutter, and
  • Removing backgrounds.

Experiment with several combinations for the best view.

Example: In browser accessibility options, when you select "Ignore Color" this is how the different web pages will look:


From this:

To this:

photo of webpage viewed normally photo of webpage with background image turned off and image color changed to black


Opera Browser

Opera also allows customization when viewing web pages:

  • A zoom feature enlarges the size of web pages including graphics.
  • You can customize browser colors, font and buttons.
  • It remembers your settings for any web page visited.
  • It includes keyboard commands for ALL browser functions.



Netscape allows some customization:

  • You can change the color and size of the website's fonts and background.
  • You can choose how buttons are displayed.

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Magnification Software

For some students with low vision, using a larger monitor and adjusting the display using the built-in accessibility provides enough visual access to the computer screen. When that isn't enough, she may need magnification software. See our handout on Training tips for using Magnification programs.

Screen magnification programs (also referred to as screen enlargement utilities or large print programs) allow users to enlarge a portion of the screen. They turn the computer monitor into a viewport showing only a portion of an enlarged display. Users then use the mouse or keyboard to move this viewport to view different areas of the display.


Example of a viewport of a computer screen

This is page 1 from the Living Book entitled, "Arthur's Birthday." Notice the text at the top and the navigational icons (left and right yellow arrows) located in the corners at the bottom of the screen.

photo of page 1 from the Living Book Arthur's Birthday

This is the viewable area available when using a magnification program set to 3X. By default, the viewport targets this area of the screen.

photo of page 1 from the Living Book Arthur's Birthday magnified by 3x


Specialized Features

Specialized features of some magnification programs include:

  • Speech output
    The computer reads text displayed on the screen and echoes keyboard typing.
  • Cursor & mouse pointer enhancements
    Alters the size , shape and/or color of the cursor or mouse pointer.
  • Reverse display (white on black) on demand
    Changes the foreground and background colors for enhanced contrast.
  • Hands-free scrolling of text in multiple directions
    Text moves from left to right and top to bottom to make reading entire documents easier.

Many magnification programs contain a special feature called "scrolling". Scrolling automatically moves the text from left to right and from top to bottom at a speed chosen by the student. This makes reading information displayed on the computer screen easier.

For programs that include an audio output feature, text may be highlighted as each word is spoken, similar to the talking word processors. The advantage is that the text from an encyclopedia, a web page or from another application program can be read directly from the source.

The student may also be able to choose where text is displayed as it is read. For example, in the ZoomText Xtra Level II program, students can select from the following display choices when reading:

photo of DocReader control settings
ZoomText Xtra Level II DocReader control settings

Normal Mode displays the document in its original format. Scrolling occurs vertically and horizontally.

Prompter Mode wraps lines of text within the screen margins and scrolls vertically.

Ticker Mode displays text in a single continuous line that scrolls horizontally. The unmagnified image is displayed below the magnified line.



Each of the following products have demos available for download from the Internet:


Lunar (Dolphin Computer Access)
Large print only.

MAGic (Freedom Scientific)

SuperNova (Dolphin Computer Access)
With speech.

ZoomText (Ai Squared)
Includes both large print & speech output.



inLarge (ALVA Access Group)

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Reading & Computers

Talking Word Processors Scanners & OCR software

Many students with low vision may be able to read materials in the primary grades with only minor adaptations. After grade 2, however, print size decreases and the volume of reading increases. With some added components, the computer can become a virtual "reading machine."

Talking Word Processors

Talking word processors are software programs with a text-to-speech feature that allows the text to be read aloud to the student. Once text, such as a story from a book, is imported into a talking word processor, you can enlarge the text size and adjust the color of the foreground and background.

photo of page from book photo of page from book in electronic format
Textbook page Write:OutLoud (Don Johnston, Inc.)



WriteOutLoud - Click to Play Animation
WriteOutLoud (Don Johnston, Inc.)

Text displayed in a talking word processor can be read word by word, sentence by sentence, or from beginning to end. As each word is spoken, it is "highlighted" or visually presented in a different color that can be set by the user.

You can import information into a talking word processor in a number of ways, including:

  • Typing directly into a word processor file,
  • Copying text from another electronic resource (i.e., MS Word file, CD ROM encyclopedia or Internet web page) and pasting it into the word processor, or
  • Scanning text with OCR (Ocular Character Recognition) software to convert print into an electronic format.


Examples of Talking Word Processors

Write OutLoud (Don Johnston, Inc.)

Intellitalk II (IntelliTools)

Read & Write (TextHelp)

Kid Works Deluxe (Smart Kids Software)

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Scanners & OCR Software

photo of a woman scanning a documentFlatbed scanners come bundled with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software so that when you scan printed materials, the images convert into editable text. Once text is scanned into the computer, it can be read using large print and/or screen reader software, making the computer a virtual "reading machine."

Hewlett Packard scanners come bundled with OCR named "OmniPage Lite." This is a good product, but upgrading to the professional version, "OmniPage Pro," is even better because it allows you to scan directly into your word processor of choice.

Other products, Kurzweil 1000 and 3000, WYNN, and Open Book - Ruby Edition, combine their own OCR and screen reader software with other features, such as a built-in talking dictionary. They provide a complete literacy environment with more audio feedback and information when scanning.

With Kurzweil 3000, words are highlighted in a contrasting color to the page making tracking easier. However, the added features make them a more expensive option and require the user to learn an additional set of keyboard commands.


Scanner Examples

You can purchase scanners from your local computer store. It is best to get a USB connection as the scanning is faster than when using a Parallel connection. Check for scanner compatibility with the sellers of the software you choose to use.

Hewlett Packard Scanners

Epson Scanners


OCR Software Examples

OmniPage Professional Upgrade
Available from local computer stores in most locations.

Kurzweil 1000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc)
2 North William Street
Pearl River, NY 10965

Kurzweil 3000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc)
2 North William Street
Pearl River, NY 10965

Open Book - Ruby Edition (Freedom Scientific)
Rochester, NY
Contact: Terry Martin

WYNN (Freedom Scientific)
480 California Avenue
Suite 201
Palo Alto, CA 94306-1609
888- 223-3344

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Writing & Computers

Fonts and formats Using A Typing Program

Talking word processors incorporate speech output that provides a key echo when typing letters, saying a word or sentence aloud or when reading back text that has been typed on the screen. They also provide adjustable font size and adjustable foreground and background colors.

photo of Write: OutLoud program
Write:OutLoud (Don Johnston, Inc)


A relatively new and inexpensive talking word processor, IntelliTalk II, provides independent access for students with VI to most word processing and reading tasks, once the keyboard commands are learned. It may be a good choice for a very young student just beginning to use the computer. We offer a handout on tips for using IntelliTalk II for students with visual impairments.


Fonts and formats

We rely on visual feedback when writing. We look at what we have written to be sure that the words make sense and are spelled correctly. When composing or revising, we frequently look back at previously written sections and insert, delete, reorganize paragraphs or make marginal notes. In using computers, the printing of written text eliminates poor legibility issues, making what is written, readable.


Fonts make a difference

  • Proportionally-spaced sans serif fonts such as Arial, Universal or Helvetica are easier to read than serif fonts such as Times or fixed-space fonts such as Courier.
  • APHont ™ is a font designed for individuals with Low Vision.
  • Non-justified text is easier to track down a page than justified.
  • Lower or mixed-case letters are easier to read than capitals since the height of the letters and the shape of a word can be recognized more easily.

You can download free fonts from the Internet or purchase Font programs.


Using A Typing Program

Young children without a visual impairment typically use a "hunt & peck" keyboarding method when first using the computer. Formal keyboarding instruction is not introduced until later. In fact, there is some disagreement among educators and computer specialists as to when teaching touch typing is appropriate. For students with low vision, however, a hunt & peck approach is often very inefficient.

Keyboarding skills should be introduced early and deliberately to facilitate the use of the computer as a reading and writing tool. One way to introduce keyboarding to a student with low vision is to use an inexpensive talking word processor or a computer program developed to teach keyboarding.

Features of typing programs to look for depend on whether the student requires a magnification program:

  1. For students not using a magnification program, teachers should look for programs that:
    • Introduce the letters to be typed in a high contrast, uncluttered background,
    • Provide a large or adjustable font size,
    • Provide audio prompting of letters to be typed, and
    • Provide audio feedback when keys are pressed.
  2. For students using a magnification program, it is important to determine whether the letters to be typed, and letters the student types, remain in the viewport.

View our examples of typing tutorial software used with screen magnification.

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Math & Computers

For many students with low vision, using a paper and pencil to write math problems is visually difficult. Low Tech solutions can include paper and writing aids. There are also special software programs that can help.


Visable Scientific Calculator (Betacom)
This large key/large display calculator allows students with low vision to perform scientific, statistical, arithmetic and trigonometric calculations. Its capabilities exceed the requirements of a distance acuity of 6/90 or 20/300.

image of: Visable Scientific Calculator

Electronic Worksheets

Access to Math (Don Johnston)
Access to Math is a talking math worksheet program that helps foster the development of numbers and operation senses. It provides on-screen worksheets that support individual learning needs. (Mac only)

MathPad (IntelliTools)
MathPad is designed to be a "word processor for math." In addition to providing an accessible writing structure, this program incorporates speech output and adjustable font size. (Mac & Windows)

MathPad Plus: Fractions and Decimals (IntelliTools)
MathPad Plus: Fractions and Decimals offers the same functionality as MathPad. Students can also do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using fractions and decimals. Teachers can enter problems from worksheets or textbooks so students with learning disabilities can work on the same problems as their peers. (Mac & Windows)

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American Council of the Blind Parents
c/o American Council of the Blind
1155 15th Street N.W., Suite 720
Washington, D.C. 20005
(202) 467-5081; (800) 424-8666

American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
(800) AFBLIND (Toll Free Hotline)

American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
502-895-2405; (800) 223-1839

Blind Children's Center
1839 Frankfort Avenue
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
502-895-2405; (800) 223-1839

Blindness Resource Center
The New York Institute for Special Education
999 Pelham Parkway
Bronx, New York 10469 USA
(718) 519-7000 Ext. 315

CEC's Division for the Visually Handicapped
c/o Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 22091-1589
(703) 620-3660

Descriptive Video Service: Home Video and Television
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134

The Internet Low Vision Society Alternate Access to various Media
Information on Talking Books, Media Access, Radio Reading Services , Internet Audio resources, Large print Books and Libraries

National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments
P.O. Box 317
Watertown, MA 02272
(817) 972-7441; (800) 562-6265

National Association for Visually Handicapped
22 West 21st Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-3141

National Braille Association, Inc. (NBA)
3 Townline Circle
Rochester, NY 14623
(716) 427-8260

National Center to Improve Practice Technology for Students who are Visually Impaired
Education Development Center, Inc.
Newton, Massachusetts

National Federation of the Blind, Parents Division
c/o National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314

National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
1291 Taylor Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20542
(202) 707-5100; (800) 424-8567

National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314 ext. 360

NYS Radio reading Services for Visually Impaired

P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013-1492
800) 695-0285

Resources for Parents & Teachers of Blind Kids


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