This is a question people with various vision concerns often ask themselves. A follow up question could be, do I have the right support to read what I want to read? Do the magnifier or other solutions make reading easier and more efficient? How do I check if a different magnifier would be a better option?
Selecting any tool can be a daunting task. When we have no choices, we take whatever is available, even if it does not completely satisfy us. But when you have a choice, the situation is not easier at all. We often shop around to get the best item and we either rely on our own taste, neighbor’s advice, or recommendations in stores.
In case of assistive devices, it is important to find the best match that will not only satisfy our taste but most of all will significantly improve our performance.
Persons with low vision or other vision concerns who may benefit from magnifiers can feel dizzy and disoriented due to the number and variety of options available. Where we want to use our magnifier will determine features like the overall size, the size of the screen, the weight, the magnification level that we are going to look at. It would be best if one could test several options doing different reading tasks in a variety of life situations. But what should be checked and how to test it? John Taylor and others (2014) did a research to compare the efficiency of electronic magnifiers vs optical devices. They selected several tasks that their test groups were to do. Individuals who are checking specific devices are advised to do the following:
"(1) to fill in one answer [...] in a crossword puzzle (2) to read one entry from a television guide magazine (glossy paper) (3) to read the first sentence from a newspaper article (matte paper) (4) to read cooking instructions on a packet of food (5) to use the camera facility to identify the name of a book that is out of reach." [Taylor et al., 2014, p.564]
Other important things to test are:
- is the magnifier easy and comfortable to hold
- is the image clear and sharp
- can you read without distortions at your preferred rate
- can the device magnify text to your preferred size without compromising its clarity
- can you alter high contrast colors to the ones that you like best
- is text legible when high contrast colors are on
- does the magnifier have features that help you with reading: reading line, mask, additional illumination, handle, stand, etc.
- are these features effective
- can you read documents, magazines as well as books with your magnifier
When working with a desktop magnifier other aspects can also be considered:
- does the unit have a camera for distance reading
- how do you switch between reading on the desktop and reading from a board
- does the unit have two separate screens
- can you freeze an image and make necessary adjustments to make it accessible
- do you have enough work space with your magnifier sitting on your desktop
- can you fold down and stow away your magnifier without help from other people
Eventually while you are trying out new solutions pay attention to the following:
- eye fatigue – how long can you read before you feels your eye tire
- ergonomics – your posture while reading, do you have to hold the magnifier or can you set it down; can you read without straining your body
- writing effortlessly using your magnifier
Professional literature attests that the use of magnification with standard print is advantageous over the use of large print (Lussenhop & Corn, 2002). It is worth then investing time into finding the most optimal magnifier and thoroughly testing it.
More advice on what to look at when selecting a magnifier can be found in a series of articles by Shelly Brisbin and Lee Huffman in AccessWorld following these links:
- Choosing the Right Electronic Magnifier, Part 3: Handheld Magnifiers
As usual, we invite you to share your experience with us and our readers.
Lussenhop, K., & Corn, A. L. (2002). Comparative Studies of the Reading Performance of Students With Low Vision. Re:View, 34(2), 57.
Taylor, J., Bambrick, R., Dutton, M., Harper, R., Ryan, B., Tudor-Edwards, R., & … Dickinson, C. (2014). The p- EVES study design and methodology: a randomised controlled trial to compare portable electronic vision enhancement systems (p- EVES) to optical magnifiers for near vision activities in visual impairment. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics, 34(5), 558-572.