A career planning and employment resource for people who are blind or partially sighted

Tips for Improving Your Reading Skills

For readers who are partially sighted

Individuals with low vision are typically print readers. They either use optical devices (e.g. glasses, contact lenses, magnifiers or telescopes), enlarge print with software for their computers (screen enlargement software), mechanically enlarge print using copiers, or order large type books and materials.

After consulting with your ophthalmologist, optometrist, or low vision specialist who will assist you with optical devices, you will want to consider whether any of the following techniques or strategies might be helpful to you at work:

  • Use the optical devices that you have been prescribed: glasses and hand-held or stand magnifying devices for near reading (reading materials at arm’s length) and telescopes or binoculars for distant viewing (reading street signs, bus demarcations, etc.). If you don’t find a tool useful, return it to the professional who prescribed it and explain how you are trying to use the device and what isn’t working for you.
  • Learn about and use assistive or access technology (AT) that might be helpful to you such as video magnifiers (also known as CCTVs) and screen enlargement software programs for your computer.
  • Position your desk or work station so that you have your back to windows in order to avoid looking into the sunlight or window shades.
  • Minimize glare on your computer monitor and other work surfaces. Try using an anti-glare screen on your computer monitor.
  • Use task lighting that suits your eye condition (goose-necked desk lamps, for example, with halogen or incandescent bulbs).
  • Make sure that the lighting at your work station is best for you – if you prefer natural lighting, ask for a work station with windows. Consider using reading stands, including those with adjustable arms, in order to bring written materials closer to you and keep your hands free.
  • Make use of contrasting backgrounds to assist you – light on dark or vice versa. Use dark (black) felt-tipped pens on white coloured paper, avoid inexpensive paper that bleeds when you use felt-tipped pens and consider purchasing a small stock of dark-lined paper for note taking.
  • If you have difficulty with dense or busy text, consider the use of a typoscope. A typoscope is a dark cardboard page with a window cut-out to fit over a line of text that blocks out the rest of the print or pictures.
  • Consider keeping a sheet of coloured acetate (clear plastic sheet – a report cover, for example) at hand. Most people prefer yellow, although some prefer pink or blue to help with reading – the coloured acetate placed over a sheet of print will “pop” the print, making it easier to see.
  • If overhead lights or sunshine bother you, consider wearing a sun visor or cap (don’t forget to explain to your supervisor and coworkers why you are doing so).
  • If reading for extended periods of time fatigues you or causes eye strain, consider using audio texts or screen reader technology to supplement your print reading.
  • Learn about assistive or access technology (AT) that might be helpful to you such as video magnifiers (also known as CCTVs) or electronic books
  • Consider using an embossed tape labeller with white print on a dark background for labelling your files and storage areas. If you are able to see colours, you may also want to consider using coloured files or binders to organize your materials or projects.

For readers who are blind

Individuals who are blind are typically tactile (braille) or auditory (recorded or electronic text) readers. They often use screen reader technology on their computers to read what’s on the screen and may combine their screen reader with a braille display for both tactile and auditory output. Braille readers may produce their own braille materials by scanning print and converting it into braille with braille translation software and using a braille embosser for the final copy. Or they can order materials from a library or braille transcriber.

If a reader who is blind prefers audio material, he or she may scan print books or material and convert it to an electronic file, which can be listened to with screen reader software on a computer or saved as an mp3 or mp4 file and listened to on a mobile device. There are also numerous audio books available commercially or through libraries or reading services.

After determining whether you will be most comfortable reading braille, audio, electronic text, or a combination of formats, you will want to consider if the following techniques or strategies might be helpful to you at work:

  • Make sure that you have adequate space for your access technology (AT) and adapted tools you will be using routinely, and storage space for devices you may not need every day (scanners, braille embosser, printer, stand-alone reading machine etc.).
  • Ensure that there are easily accessible outlets and power bars for recharging your equipment.
  • Organize your work space so that you can use multiple devices simultaneously – your computer, a PDA, mechanical braille writer, an abacus or calculator, your phone etc.
  • If you are accessing auditory reading material, be sure to use headphones so that you don’t disturb others in your work area.
  • Use tactile markers (markers that use a liquid that hardens) to facilitate reading of equipment that is used office-wide and not set up for visually impaired workers. For example, you may want to mark microwaves, copiers, vending machines, office supplies and similar places or things for easy access. 
  • Have back-up reading tools available for when your computerized equipment fails or doesn’t have an electrical source, such as, a battery-powered digital playback machine, and braille materials in hardcopy.
  • Consider using an embossed tape labeller that produces braille labels and use clear tape so that sighted coworkers can read any print under your labels. At a minimum, label your files, binders, and storage areas. 
  • If you are unable to read braille, you may want to consider a voice output labeling system, such as, Talking Signs, Penfriend Audio Labeller, Sherlock Talking Labeller, Voxcom, or Talking Tins.
  • Keep reference materials (dictionary, Rolodex) available in hardcopy at your work station, if space allows.
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