Resources for People With Visual Impairments

What can a visually impaired person see?

A lot of older people suffer from visual impairment. They may not necessarily be registered and there may be no outward sign of their problem.

There are 2 levels of registration for visual impairment – sight impaired (used to be partially sighted) and severely sight impaired (used to be blind) and these cover a wide range of sight problems and degrees of vision. In fact, only 4% of severely sight impaired people can see nothing at all. The effects of sight loss are also very variable; someone with Glaucoma has a reduced field or tunnel vision so may struggle with getting around while still being able to read normal print, while someone with a macular problem may see reasonably in the distance but not be able to see details like print and facial features.

Producing printed material for visually impaired people

There are several ways printed material can be made more accessible:

  • Use large print 16-22 point size. It is best to ask the individual what size they would like
  • Use a sans serif font such as Arial
  • Avoid italics and underlining
  • Avoid writing in upper case – capital letters give less variation so are more difficult to read
  • Use short paragraphs and columns with good line spacing of 1.5 to 2 times the word spacing
  • Use sharply contrasting colours. Black on white or yellow paper is usually preferred. Black type is easier to see than other colours. For handwriting a felt pen is clearer than a biro.
  • Use good quality matt finish paper with a plain background.
  • When designing forms leave enough space for the client to write large text.

Equipment available to help reading visually

Many people with a visual impairment will have equipment to help them with reading. The most simple aids are a good task light to shine directly over the reading matter, often with a daylight bulb like this and a hand held magnifying glass. People can get magnifying glasses through low vision clinics at their local hospital, where they will see a specialist optician and be given the right equipment for them. Like buying reading glasses, equipment is more tailored to the individual than buying over the counter.

There are also a whole range of electronic magnifiers which some people invest in. These have the advantage of being easier to use at higher magnifications. They range from portable hand held devices to gadgets like a computer mouse which connects to a TV set and uses the screen to enlarge writing,  to full CCTV magnifiers which have their own screen with a table underneath where the printed matter can be read.

For people whose sight is not good enough with magnification there are stand alone reading machines. These are capable of scanning and reading printed documents but are expensive at over £1500.

If someone is computer literate they can scan documents into their computer and use a screen reader to read them out.

Other formats

  • Braille – only 3% of blind and partially sighted people read Braille so it is usually better to produce information in this format only if requested.
  • Audio – there is now a wide range of audio formats including cassette tapes, CDs, digital CDs (DAISY) and MP3 files. It is important that the recording is clear and it is helpful if indexes are given and useful contact numbers and dates are repeated at the end of the recording.
  • Electronic formats – a lot more visually impaired people are now making use of computer technology to access information. Using screen magnification and screen readers this makes websites and email accessible to everyone and information can be sent as text files or audio MP3 files. Audio files can be downloaded on a memory stick and played on a simple Boombox machine.

Acknowledgement: Jill Shakespear, Resources Co-ordinator, Essex Blind Charity