By: Carmen Willings
Students with low vision will frequently need materials to be increased in size. It should not be assumed that all students need large print books or enlarged photocopies of worksheets and handouts. Careful consideration must be made when choosing to use large print. There are advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered when making a decision as to whether or not to use large print books.
Negative Aspects of Large Print Books
Disadvantages to large print books include the limitations in availability, the fact that they are often poorly reproduced with poor contrast, and illustrations are usually difficult to see. Also, their bulky size sets students apart from their peers. They often do not fit on desks or within lockers and backpacks. If a student becomes dependent using large print when low vision devices or non-optical approaches would allow him or her to read print efficiently, then, the student’s access to print materials is restricted to those situations when large print is available.
Some students, depending on the functional implications of their eye condition or difficulty with body positioning, will actually be at a disadvantage by unnecessary enlargement. Therefore, the idea that “bigger is better” is not always true. Particularly when it creates a larger area to scan. This is especially true for students who have a difficult time with neck or head control as it creates a larger area for them to move to see. This is true because the larger the material, the wider the head sweep needed to view the material.
If a student becomes dependent using large print when low vision devices or non-optical approaches would allow him or her to read print efficiently, then, the student’s access to print materials is restricted to those situations when large print is available. Finally, students that are planning to attend college need to be aware that there will be no braille and no or minimal large print texts in college. Students will need to be able to comfortably and efficiently use recorded textbooks or magnification devices.
Teaching a student to use prescribed low vision devices or non-optical strategies are typically more efficient as it places the student in control and allows them to access any printed materials and not just materials that have been adapted for them. Remember that students should be encouraged to utilize the smallest amount of magnification necessary to comfortably function and perform tasks. By providing the student with a variety of tools to access print materials, the student is filling their “visual toolbox”. This should include some portable devices for near and distance depending on the needs of the student.
Who benefits from large print books?
Some students will, however, need large print in some or all situations. Students with poor muscle control, for example, may not be able to have the muscle control to operate optical devices. For students who cannot read regular print at close distances and cannot use low vision devices for motor or other reasons, large type is helpful.
Math workbooks are one area that are perhaps best accessed using large print as they provide a larger area for students to write their response. It may also be more ideal to provide large print for map worksheets and other diagrams that need labeled to allow enough space for the student to write.
If the educational team decides that large print is appropriate, remember its quality and typeface is as important to legibility as is its size. Spacing between letters and lines is also important. If you do choose to use large print, it should be at least 16 to 18 point, but keep in mind that the relationship between readability and point size differs somewhat among typefaces. This is very individualized, and some students will need a larger size print. It is also helpful as a transitional tool for students who are switching from print to braille. It may also be necessary to temporarily use it until the student can be evaluated for potential use of low vision devices and the necessary instruction can be provided with these devices.
It is always better to explore alternatives to "large type" first, since they afford greater independence in selecting reading material. If an optical device can enlarge reading material sufficiently, it is preferable to providing "large type books." When special textbooks are provided, the student is limited to reading only what is given to him/her, instead of being able to select whatever appeals to his/her interests."
Large Text Resources...
Library Reproduction Service (LRS) is a producer of large print books. It provides Large Print School Books for Visually Impaired and other print-challenged students who are taught in a mainstreamed classroom environment. Their durable hardcover books have been used in schools across the USA for over 45 years. The enlarged page retains the layout and numbering of the original, while the LRS-developed calendar format maintains a small closed-book size along with an 18 point text. Each book is custom-made for the VI student.
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Large-print books are commonly ordered for students with low vision, even when their use is unnecessary or restrictive (Koenig, Foundations of Low Vision. 1996). If a student becomes dependent using large print when low vision devices or non-optical approaches would allow him or her to read print efficiently, then the student's access to print materials is restricted to those situations when large print is available."