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Display Options for Personalizing the Reading Experience

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By customizing how information is presented, learners can reduce the effort it takes them to read the information in web pages, ebooks and other documents. They can then dedicate more of their mental resources to actually understanding the content. 

Reading on the Web

Much of the reading we do involves a web browser as we research information and interact with web applications (calendars, email and more). Web browser now include built-in options for removing distractions and improving focus, resizing the text, adjusting the colors and more. With these options, learners can set up their reading environment to be customized for their individual needs.

Focus Tools

e-book

Electronic version of a book.

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See It In Action: Safari Reader

On both the Mac and iOS devices, Safari includes a special Reader mode that removes page clutter for improved focus. This special reading mode is only available on some websites as indicated by a special icon (two letter As) that appears to the left of the web address. 

Tapping the Safari Reader icon will open a pane where you can choose 'Show Reader View" to display the less cluttered version of the page, without ads and site navigation. You can also perform a long press on the icon to toggle between the two views. Safari Reader includes a few options for customization: text resizing, font selection and background/text color combinations, including sepia, night mode (gray background) and dark mode (black background).

See It In Action: Reading View in Edge

The Edge browser for Windows has a reading view that is similar to the Reader feature in Safari. On pages that support this view, selecting the Reading View icon  (it looks like a book) in the address bar will display a cleaner version of the current page. Edge supports many options for customizing the display in the Reading View: text resizing, themes with color overlays, increased spacing, highlighting parts of speech and more. 

On Google Chrome, the following extensions can remove clutter from web pages and provide options for customizing the display of information:

In addition to removing the clutter from web pages, screen masking is another feature that can help with distractions while browsing web pages. When the mask is activated, only a few lines of text are visible on the screen. The rest of the page is masked out. With Read and Write for Google the color and opacity of both the mask and the reading light (the unmasked area) can be customized. It is also possible to remove the reading light to provide a color overlay that covers the entire screen. This may be helpful to some readers with sensitivity to high contrast or strong color combinations.

Fortunately, web browsers include text resizing options that can help if you have low vision or just prefer larger text to avoid eye strain.

Text Resizing

The easiest way to adjust the text size while reading on your web browser is with a keyboard shortcut:

  • Control (or Command on the Mac) and + (Plus} to zoom in.
  • Control (or Command on the Mac) and - (Minus) to zoom out.
  • Control (or Command on the Mac) and 0 (Zero) to reset the zoom level to the default (100%).

In addition to the keyboard shortcut, zoom options can be found in the menus for each browser, usually under the View option.

On Google Chrome, the Zoom and Zoom Text Only extensions can be used to adjust the zoom level using a handy zoom button in the browser’s toolbar. The key difference is that Zoom affects the layout of the page while Zoom Text Only does not (it only resizes the text without affecting the width of its containers).

The ability to resize the text without adjusting the layout is also available in the Firefox browser, where it is found as a toggle under View, Zoom. When this feature is turned on, pressing the keyboard shortcut for zoom will affect only text resizing without affecting the layout (the width of the text containers will not change).

Font Selection

For some readers, resizing the text is not enough. They may need to switch to a cleaner font as well. Sans-serif fonts are those that do not have extra ornamentation (serifs) at the end of the strokes. The width of the strokes is also more consistent for these fonts. These two qualities tend to make these fonts easier to read, especially at smaller text sizes where the serifs can cause the characters to appear to run into each other (crowding).

In addition to the standard sans-serif fonts available on each operating system, specialized fonts designed specifically for those with dyslexia are also available. The research on the efficacy of these fonts is not definitive. For now they are offered as additional ways learners can customize the display based on personal preferences. Dyslexia-friendly fonts are often included within apps such as Voice Dream Reader and Kindle.

Google Chrome users can also install a free Open Dyslexic extension to display web pages in that font. Open Dyslexic is also available in the Beeline Reader extension, which adds a color gradient to the text. The idea is that this gradient guides the eyes from the end of one line of text to the next.    

Contrast and Color Filters

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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See It In Action: Chrome Extensions for Customizing the Display of Information

Google Chrome users can install two free extensions to adjust the contrast and colors of the display: High Contrast and Deluminate. Deluminate also has a setting (Smart Invert Images) that adjusts only the contrast of the surrounding text while leaving the images untouched. This can be helpful in situations where the image has information that could be difficult to interpret with the colors inverted. Visor is a free extension that adds a color overlay on the entire page. Color overlays can be helpful for readers who experience a condition called visual stress, a sensitivity to certain frequencies of light.

Reading on an E-Reader App

Popular e-reader apps learners can use to acquire and read e-books include:

The most common options for customizing the display of information in these apps include:

  • Text resizing: this option will only be available for some formats, such as ePub, that allow content to reflow. Formats such as PDF have the text size set by the author. While this allows an e-book to preserve its layout, it limits the customization that is possible for learners who need a larger text size.  
  • Font selection: choosing cleaner, sans-serif fonts can be helpful to some readers. Sans serif fonts do not have extra ornamentation at the end of their strokes, which makes them easier to read at smaller text sizes. Some e-readers (Voice Dream Reader, Kindle) also feature special fonts such as Open Dyslexic that are designed for learners with dyslexia, but research on the efficacy of such fonts is not conclusive yet.  
  • Themes: the default setting of a white background with dark text may not provide sufficient contrast for some readers who have low vision, but it may provide too much contrast for others who have reading difficulties. Changing the theme can help, with options such as a dark background with light text for those with low vision, and a sepia (warm tone) one for those who need less contrast. Some apps allow even more options, with color pickers that allow the reader to select specific colors.
  • Flexible spacing: the default spacing may not be sufficient for some readers with dyslexia who experience crowding, where lines or characters that are too close to each other appear to run into each other. Adding some spacing can help. This can be line spacing, character spacing or even word spacing in some apps.
  • Adjustable Margins: for some readers with peripheral vision issues, it may be helpful to increase the margins so that more of the content appears near the middle where their vision is stronger.
  • Justification: justified text has additional character and word spacing added so that the text falls flush with both margins. The additional space can be distracting to some readers, who may want to turn it off and read left-justified text only.  
  • Reading guides: some e-readers have a special focused reading mode where only a few lines of the text are visible while the rest of the screen is masked out to remove distractions. This is the case in Voice Dream Reader, where the Lines Visible setting in the Visual Settings allow the reader to choose 5, 3 or 1 line visible at one time. On iOS, it is also possible to go in and out of the mask using a pinch gesture.  Another approach is a scrolling line that moves down the page as it reveals the next page in the e-book behind it. This option is available in Moon+ Reader on Android.

The availability of some of these options will depend on the formats the e-reader app supports. Currently, EPUB 3 is an industry standard for reflowable books that support a number of accessibility features. More detailed information about the EPUB support in popular reading tools is available on the  EPUB Test website.

The Center for Inclusive Software for Learning (CISL) at CAST has done extensive research into digital learning supports as part of its development of Clusive, a flexible, adaptive, and customizable digital learning environment.  

Your Turn

Ready to explore some of the above features that are built into your technology? Here are some things to try.

Reduce Distractions on a Web Page

A lot of web pages include content that can get in the way of staying focused on reading. Advertisements are a good example of this. Wouldn’t it be nice to clear a web page of everything except what you need to learn? You can! Try it. 

  • If you use Safari on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone: try Safari Reader
  • If you use Google Chrome: try Just Read or the Reader View in Helper View
  • If you Microsoft Edge on Windows: try Reading View

Change the Appearance of Colors and Text on a Web Page

Most of us look at a web page without thinking about our own preferences for how it might appear. Did you know you have options? Give them a try. Be sure to make note of what works well.

  • If you use Safari on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone: try the display options built into Safari Reader
  • If you use use Google Chrome: try Deluminate and Visor
  • If you use Microsoft Edge on Windows: try the Reading View

 

EPUB

Distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents.

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PDF (Portable Document Format)

Universal computer file type used to exchange and view documents on any computer with Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader software installed.

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Accessibility

Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)

Non-profit organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through research and development.

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Technology

Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.

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