Optimum Readability of Computer Projected, Written, or Internet Text

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It is easiest to read projected text if the contrast is a solid, medium-blue background with plain, yellow letters or some similar color contrast. See for example, www.lighthouse.org/accessibility/design/accessible print design/effective color contrast. A black and white background to text contrast may give the affect of staring into a light bulb. Projected text is harder to read if it has objects, patterns, pictures, shading, multiple colors, dark and light areas, lines, or any movement in it.

It is easiest to read projected text with only 15 to 20 words or less, per screen, with the font size as large as possible, so that it fills the entire screen, but still creates meaningful chunks of words. Projected text is easier to read if it uses only one type of font with an even thickness, such as Arial (san serif fonts). It is harder to read text if the letters, words, and lines are condensed, or if the letters are thin, uneven, fancy, or if they have any appearance affects, such as italic, cursive, bold, outline, shadow, or all caps. Outlining letters does not help when the contrast is poor.

Problems with this guideline

(1) Some people may not know what is meant by >good contrast<. Projected song lyrics with white or yellow letters on a background of a grey waterfall or white clouds in a pale blue sky are hard to read. Even a slide without a confusing picture or pattern background is still difficult to read if it uses light colored letters on a medium orange or light colored background. A color wheel that demonstrates better contrasts may help teach this concept. Discussion of this concept and examples of Color Contrast Wheels can be found on several Internet sites.

(2) Some people may not know what is meant by "small", or "large", projected print, or why it matters to have fewer words and no appearance affects. Fast readers do not read one word at a time. They learn to read a large number of words at one time. Some readers may not know what constitutes a smaller, meaningful chunk of words because they grasp the whole paragraph, or page at once and rarely consider just 10 or 15 words. Fast readers with good eyesight recognize a letter by just seeing a portion of it. Fancy fonts and condensing words do not adversely affect their reading. Also, it may take a few more minutes to highlight, copy, paste, format, and present 10 to 15 slides, where each slide has fewer words, instead of making 5 slides, each with more words.

(3) This guideline may seem to restrict creativity and the decorative, or layout possibilities of screen projection software. It may help to compare this with artists such as architects who give up the exclusive use of stairs in new construction in order to include people who have a mobility impairment or who use a wheelchair. Architects can still create buildings with stairways if they have space and resources to build reasonable alternatives and not just back-alley entrances. Likewise, churches can still project pretty colors and pictures with other projectors or during times between the clear projection of words. Clear communication is central to the church's purpose and mission.

2 - Printed Material

The average size of print is 12 point font. The standard definition of large print is 16 or 18 point font (source: www.cnib.ca, or www.afb.org). The most readable contrast for print material is black ink on solid yellow or white paper. It is hard to read dark ink on a dark background, or light ink on dark paper. It is difficult to read text on paper (or an e-mail, or a Web site) that has pictures, patterns, lines, multiple colors, or shading. The best readability is with a plain sans serif font without appearance affects and no condensing of the letters, words, or lines of the text. Slightly larger print (12.5 point font or larger) or expanded letters, words, and lines (1.05 or 1.1) helps everyone in a poorly lit sanctuary.

It may be a wise choice to reduce the margins or slightly lower the above printed text standards when there are just a few words or lines left for a new page. Omitting unnecessary designs may lower costs too. Draft quality printer or copier settings may or may not work well. Just a few or a few dozen larger 16 or 18 point font bulletins, lesson outlines, or other materials using 8 1/2" by 14" paper folded in half may not be too costly.

Problems with this guideline

(1) Increasing font size usually requires reformatting the page. It is not enough to highlight and enlarge the font on a computer and print it out, or photo-copy enlarge a page onto a larger sheet (usually an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper can be enlarged 125% to 140% onto an 11" by 17" sheet). However, enlarging from 8 1/2" X 11" to 8 1/2" X 14" (legal size paper) may be preferred because larger sheets of paper are more difficult to handle and it can be harder to locate specific pages. It can also be demeaning to people with low vision. Most people prefer to fit in just like everyone else and not stand out as different by what they use. It takes a little time to learn to re-format pages to create the neatest product that is most similar to the one everyone else uses, one that is not huge and easy to navigate through. Once reformatting is learned, it takes less time to create large print material.

(2) Creating materials for people with low vision is often done after completion of the more numerous print copies. When time or supplies run out, the few are left out. It only takes one or two failures to send the message that these people do not matter.

(3) A common problem for people with a vision impairment, and for people with other disabilities as well, is that they will not ask for help. An offer to help if someone asks, or if enough people ask may seem generous. However, it may result in little or nothing being done. People in a disabling situation may not know what to ask for or how to ask. They may avoid requesting accommodation due to the loss of self-esteem and embarrassment associated with being seen as not normal or less than self-competent. Some avoid requesting an accommodation because they found that requesting help is too difficult, too futile, or just more trouble than it is worth. Some people say they do not ask for help because they do not want efforts made on their behalf, preferring instead that everything be done for others. The solution is to make a few large print bulletins, order of worship, newsletters, or sermon or lesson outlines whether or not anyone asks for them and make it known they are available. Place them near or with the small print materials.

(4) Colored paper is decorative and an easy way to locate different documents. Nonetheless, black ink on a pale green, blue, pink, or purple paper is harder to see. Black ink on yellow paper is best and white paper is second best. A large print, bold title on a document will help people tell the difference between different documents.

3 - Bibles

Bible publishers create their own definitions for the terms "large," "extra large," "giant," or "super giant" print. They may use these labels with 11, 12, or 13 point fonts, which are larger than their standard Bibles, but they are not large print. Bookstore employees who are unaware of this issue may mislead customers. A truly large print (16 or 18 point font) entire Bible in a single volume is only available in a King James Version. On demand computer printing might allow printing other versions in truly large print in one volume - if people request them. Most Bible software programs allow for text enlargement and color and contrast change. Some ebook devices allow for font size changes, but these may not seem large enough if they have little or no color and contrast control or if the lighting is insufficient. Alternatives to reading exist, such as a Bible on tape or CD, but for people with enough vision, or if magnifiers help, holding and reading the Bible may be preferred over listening to it or reading it from a computer.

Problems with this guideline

(1) Bible publishers have for many years used various small font sizes which they labeled large, extra large, or giant print as part of their marketing strategy. Their use of these words may be in relation to what they consider their standard print size. They may believe that making a truly large-print Bible in various translations is not profitable. Perhaps the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) which covers a large market area will encourage greater variety or at least promote an adherence to a standard language on print size and a standard practice of clearly indicating the font size and style. This will at least help protect consumers.

(2) Truly large print Bibles (16 or 18 point font) in one volume are larger and heavier than the standard smaller print versions. They are harder to carry or to handle. Truly large print Bibles may be less durable and more costly than other Bibles.

(3) It is a misconception to think that electronic devices will take the place of paper books, especially Bibles.

4 - Internet

On a Website or e-newsletter add a "Text Only" option and put descriptive tags on pictures. Allow the text to wrap so that the "ctrl" and "+" keys, pressed together, will enlarge the text without extending it beyond the screen sides. This eliminates the need for sideways scrolling. Set up PDF text so that it can be copied into a word processor to be enlarged and read without sideways scrolling. Set the browser's e-mail default font to a 12 point, san serif font, such as Arial.

Problems with this guideline

(1) Many churches use volunteer Web designers who do not have the knowledge to build an accessible Web site. It may take longer. Building and maintaining an Internet site is getting easier, but churches using volunteer labor rely on whoever they can get.

(2) Web designers enjoy using their artistic, aesthetic senses. However, some restrictions are not unreasonable (see number 1(3) above on restriction of creativity).

To discuss this material further or to give feedback about it please contact me. I have also written an outline on how to use computers for inclusive worship.
 

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