When Text is Not Displayed Well

Some people with low vision, dyslexia, and other conditions and situations that impact reading need to be able to change the way text is displayed in order to read it — for example, make the text larger, or change the text and background colors. To learn more, see Understanding User's Needs.

What happens when text is displayed in a way that doesn't work for someone, and they cannot change the way the text is displayed? Some answers come from a User Research Survey on changing text display:

Some people give up and quit trying to read.

More User Research Survey Data

The following is from the User Research Survey on Changing Text Display for Easier Reading. Comments are filtered for relevance and roughly grouped; repeated comments are not shown; comments are not edited. There is no meaning to the numbering of the comments; they are numbered only to make it easier to refer to a specific comment.

Do you quit?

Question: Do you quit reading information from the computer
(such as an article on the web or instructions in PDF) and not finish it,
just because the text is too hard to read comfortably?

Note: Some people have fairly effective strategies for reading, for example, they copy text from a web page, paste it into Word, and change the display; or they use screen magnification or a screen reader. Sometimes the text cannot be customized enough to read effectively.

Respondents' answers:

Answer Options Response
Often every day 65
Sometimes - a few times a week 62
Occasionally - a few times a month 45
Rarely - a few times a year 33
Never 16


  • I get disgusted, and find a source I can read comfortably if I am unable to easily change the way text is displayed.
  • If it is not displayed to my reading comfort, I do not read it.
  • Usually, I just zoom in a bit. But if I can't, then I leave the site.
  • If the contrast is not good enough, even with magnification, I quit reading it. If the letters are in italics or font other than block text, I quit. It's just impossible unless I have a screenreader
  • I either to try to find in a different format or do not read it because I am having trouble.
  • Typically don't spend a lot of time on computer doing things that pose this problem. Thank you for your larger text!
  • If its not that interesting in first paragraph then I stop o
  • Despite my 32' monitor, sometimes it is just easier not to finish an article.
  • Whenever I feel like I want to get away from it...
  • Wrong readable text makes me tired, so I can not read it to the end and must read it on a next day.
  • Sometimes the font is just too small, but more often it is when the print is on a color that leaves very little contrast between the print and the background.
  • frustrated!!
  • The layout of some web pages and the colour contrasts along with certain fonts (e.g. Time New Roman) cause me problems
  • It's a case by case basis. If it's an item on the Internet, more often than not I can use my browser's (Mozilla Firefox) zooming options and/or additional add-ons to enlarge items to read them. If the web developer has followed web standards, most of the time there aren't any issues, but if they provide information that they expect individuals to read in an image format for example, Flash only web sites, and iframes, then it can be a huge challenge for me and others to be able to get the information displayed. Google groups is an example of a service that displays information in an iframe and it is difficult to zoom the text (with full page zoom) to use the service.
  • Items on my computer (not on the Internet) are more difficult to use for the lack of options to enlarge text, icons etc. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, etc, is a perfect example of that. I use a application (Virtual Magnifying Glass http://magnifier.sourceforge.net/) to compensate when I cannot read or see what I need to.
  • Only if it isn't available in my desired format, which is white letters on black background.
  • Hard to focus and dry eyes
  • Text that's too small is not a problem, because I can use the "zoom text" feature to make it big enough. But some sites use insufficient contrast, like dark-grey text on light-grey backgrounds. That, I can't fix, so I just assume if they really wanted me to read their site, they'd make it readable, and I close the browser tab and go read something else.
  • Usually, at least on my desktop, I can enlarge the text but if there is an option on my smart phone I am not aware of it.
  • As a computer professional myself, I can usually work out how to get the text more comfortably readable for me. Actually on a similar note (which you may or may not ask about later) - I do have more problems with text on my mobile phone and am more likely to give up on reading something on that.
  • Only on tablets and mobile devices I seem to have more control on the computer to compensate for the problem (at least on my iMac)
  • I don't understand PDF, so I don't try to read it. It often appears cloudy to me.
  • I can't read PDFs comfortably so I avoid them if I can. If I can't avoid them, I'll read them for a little, take a break, and then start again...until I get the reading done. In my profession, I can't not read something just because it's painful; I have to power through it.
  • PDF documents pose the biggest issue. I have a Mac and sometimes it is difficult to read PDFs found on the internet for long periods of time. Sometimes I will give up and try to find a new source of information that is not a PDF.
  • I avoid PDF whenever possible as it does not work well with Zoomtext
  • Sometimes it is every day. Other times if may not occur for months at a time.
  • Some articles are photos and can't be accesses with text to speech or made large or appear to have double printing. You can eliminate the double printing by swiping the cursoover tit but it is annoying.. Many newspapers are not in a format that is easily read by someone with low vision. they are too busy, Not put in a sequential format such as part of an article will start above a picture then it jumps to below the picture and off to one side with lots of links and other stuff making it hard to find.
  • I have to take breaks to refocus
  • I often wonder how many people don't use a computer at all because of pervasive tiny text. I often think stylists treat http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG-TECHS/G18.html as a maximum rather than a minimum.
  • I am not able to read "normal" text, even with magnification/contrast I rely on a screen reader. for inaccessible items that must be read I often do not finish reading the materials
  • Cannot access without assistive technology
  • I have access to a screen reader and this helps read for long periods.
  • I use Zoomtext at work and Magic at home which allows me to read with no difficulty.
  • I do not stop reading if it becomes uncomfortable. At that point I will switch to software that will read it to me. I have stopped reading printed hard-copy such as books. I read newspapers in eectronic format, but old books are more difficult and have to be scanned.
  • I currently use a screen magnification software on my computer, so this doesn't happen as often as it did before I had the program.
  • I an using a NVDA, PDFs can suck to read with AT
  • I increase the text size where necesary
  • I increase the font size on the screen or copy and paaste it into Word and read it in a large font size.
  • Although I use an adaptive aid, not all computer programs display comfortably.
  • I enlarge the print by holding down the control button and the equal sign.
  • I can usually make enough adjustments to make it easier to read. Only if I can't will I quit reading an article.
  • Yes, unless it is important, then I enlarge it more or print it out and use my magnifier and cover my bad eye.
  • If there is too much text and not enough spacing between lines, I get lost reading. I had a weird way of reading, but it was fast, with 90 percent or better comprehension, but I saw the entire page somehow, and read it seeing the whole page. Now I sometimes need something underneath a line if the instructions are very detailed and too close together.
  • usually I increase the font -- and/or copy paste to a program in which I *can* increase font
  • When this happens I readjust the text to make it easier to read. Mostly by just changing the font and adjusting the size
  • Generally, I try and skim through articles rather than read every word because of the difficulty.
  • It depends on how easily the text can be adapted. I like to adapt text to make it more comfortable to read when I can figure out how to do so.
  • I only read things like this when it's absolutely necessary and usually try to make the font as large as possible.
  • Somewhere between often every day and sometimes - a few times a week. IF it's for work, then I have to sometimes tough it out; if it is for pleasure or just because I want to read it, then when it gets difficult I abandon it altogether and maybe look for another resource that's not so difficult. The hardest are those instructions that have been PDF'd and locked down or are a screen print (picture) of whatever it is and then saved as a PDF.
  • I use a virtual overlay that sits over the white sections and allows me to read normally
  • I change way it is dysplayed if it is a problem
  • It bugs me, but it doesn't stop me from accessing the content.
  • I'm highly skilled

What happens with normal text?

What happens when you read "normal" text
such as a newspaper,
text on a computer that is not displayed how you like it
such as a pale text on a bright background?

Note: Several respondents (about 26) commented that they cannot read normal text at all, for example: "Does not apply since I cannot actually read this type of text", "I am not able to read "normal" text", and "I am unable with my AMD to read that small a print."

Respondents' answers:

Significantly Somewhat Slightly Not at all
I get tired 99 56 34 28
I get a headache 40 45 54 78
I get nauseated or dizzy 13 21 33 143
My eyes hurt 66 46 54 50
Other things that happen: 39 30 15 87


  • (tired) difficulty in reading numbers and same letter coming continuously
  • (tired) I am unable to see any words.
  • (tired) I can read a newspaper with great difficulty. A computer screen without significant enlargement is completely inaccessible to me. If I try to read light on dark texts after a few lines all I can see is stripes.
  • (tired) Letters run into one another
  • (tired) Part of text is missing in spots
  • (other) If the background is a red or violet, I can't find the letters and words..and they blur.
  • (other) Words and letters begin to blur together. Lines of text are easy to confuse with one another. Some letters such as b, p, q and d or i and j become jumbled and seem interchangable with one another. I sometimes begin to read lines vertically instead of horizontally, especially if text is justfied on a screen.
  • (other) Words get blurred.
  • (hurt) With my eye condition I experience a phenomenon called "crowding" where it is difficult to distinguish individual letters in a word, especially with certain fonts that make the letters tall and skinny
  • (headache) Computer screens flicker & if the light is too bright then it seems to flicker more
  • (headache) the page usually just looks blank
  • (tired) Eye strain leaves me with mental fatigue.
  • (tired) It becomes a strain to read documents that are not made easy to read through magnification or color scheme changes such as white lettering on black background. Reading becomes very slow under poor conditions.
  • (tired) It takes me longer to read.
  • (tired) Text is moving
  • (other) comprehension loss - too much too tightly packed
  • (other) have to re read text several times
  • (other) I can not keep my spot. I have to usually go line by line when reading.
  • (other) I can only see one or two letters at a time and my eyes jump around and not track across a sentence.
  • (other) I find it hard to keep track of where I am due to my dyslexia
  • (other) I get caught up in analyzing the writing style and miss out on the content and lose interest
  • (other) I have to re-read things repeatedly and often forget the preceding sentence/s, particularly if interrupted.
  • (other) it becomes difficult/impossible to focus after about an hour
  • (other) Lose concentration easily.
  • (other) My comprehension decreases -- that is, the smaller the print, the less willing my eyes are to READ. So, for example, I can read small print on a map (labels) but not small print in a news story.
  • (other) my reading accuracy is affected.
  • (other) text moves
  • (other) The tracking issue
  • (other) Very aware of the text 'glittering' and of residual after-images of bold letters
  • (other) When tired or having difficulty with a font possessing stops i.e. I read the letters but the words have no meaning
  • (hurt) Staring at the text and trying to concentrate on reading
  • (tired) After prolonged periods of reading, increasingly so with text on computer or something back lit
  • (tired) Because of my nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) and weaker eye muscles, it takes a lot of concentration and control to read normal text, therefore I get worn out easily.
  • (tired) I get tired depending on how much and how long I read and significantly impacts the lenth of time I can read a newspaper for example
  • (tired) It does not take me long to get tired from reading with one eye.
  • (tired) Small text in normal or dim light is tiresome to try to read and sometimes I can't read it accurately.
  • (tired) Too much text to read makes me tired
  • (other) I am tired, I cannot focus and my attention wanders, my eyes feel like they have sand in them
  • (other) Tiered, overwhelmed, low mood
  • (tired) eye strain and headaches, fatigue, and frustration
  • (tired) I can read standard print with difficulty but it is a strain and I will use magnification where possible.
  • (tired) I have to strain my eyes to read this type of text unless I magnify it and my eyes do get tired quickly.
  • (tired) Very difficult as I have to strain at times
  • (hurt) Eye strain
  • (hurt) Strain from trying to read small letters etc
  • (hurt) Straining my eye just to read.
  • (hurt) straining!!!!!!
  • (hurt) unable to read without sever strain
  • (headache) Eye strain gives me headaches.
  • (headache) strain on the eyes
  • (headache) This kind of situation requires lots of conentration and creates a lot of eyestrain.
  • (hurt) Pale text on a bright background is less problematic than dark text on a bright background. But a bright background is always a problem.
  • (tired) I get a head and neck ache after about 15 minutes.
  • (other) It affects my posture and my neck and shoulders are very uncomfortable, even though I have a good chair.
  • (other) Neck and shoulder pain begins after a while trying to read.
  • (other) Neck/shoulder hurt.
  • (other) significan neck strain as well
  • (other) Sore neck and back from leaning or hunchung over text
  • (hurt) If I have to get very close to the screen.
  • (hurt) Sharp and shooting pins can occur when looking at tiny text, or almost the same color as the background.
  • (hurt) The pain can be unbearable to the point where I have to go lay down with a cold cloth over my eyes to calm them down.
  • (tired) I might can read a few words, then turn it off. It just isn't worth the pain, often sharp and shooting through my partial eye.
  • (other) my eyes ache, my head herts and my vision get's less. I also suffer dry eyes if this goes on too long
  • (other) These simptons can last for the whole day and sometime into the next days
  • (hurt) burning from dryness
  • (hurt) eyes feel like they are burning
  • (hurt) From the dry eyes
  • (hurt) If I read a lot (Print) my eyes hurt. The biggest problem is the computer, though. I get terrible headaches that last a long time. I have started wearing computer glasses and trying to remember to take a lot of breaks, which definitely help.
  • (hurt) If I try to read even the headlines on newspaper, my eyes hurt
  • (hurt) My eyes hurt from the dryness and the strain of trying to read
  • (hurt) Red, irritated, painful etc.
  • (hurt) Sometimes depending on size of print and how long I am reading
  • (hurt) They often hurt more early in the day, as if they take a compensating "set" in use during the day that unsets the more sleep I get.
  • (hurt) They start to burn and then I start getting very irritable.
  • (hurt) This is perpetual.
  • (hurt) This would occur after reading for long periods of time. I find that I need to take frequent breaks and apply some additional pressure to my eyes or close them for a period of time to "reset" them.
  • (other) Get ocular migranes
  • (other) Reading normal text causes me eye fatigue and coupled with bright lighting, all this triggers migraine headaches.
  • (headache) from eye strain
  • (headache) I used to have a lot of headaches at school before my photophobia was diagnosed and I got the tinted lenses. Now I'm better on computers with the tinted lenses, but I still get headaches with smaller text.
  • (headache) Migraine, sore eyes, vision deteriorates further
  • (headache) Occasional headaches if I read more than a few words.
  • (headache) Sometimes I get a headache related to how long I try to read
  • (headache) yes can be worse by how long I am using computer as well
  • (nausea, dizzy) I have double vision and poor depth perception.
  • (tired) Can't read print; eyes tire and feel as if I may have seizures on computer at too small resolution, etc. For some reason Windows (work) computer effects me more than home (Mac) computer/Ipad. My employer (the Army) won't get me a Mac.
  • (tired) Depends upon: (1) how close to the text or source of the text I am; (2) on the size of the text; (3) on the contrast of the text to the surrounding medium (paper, computer screen, sky, etc.), and (4) the intensity of the sun or the light source that I am reading under.
  • (tired) My eyes can have trouble focusing and I feel like my brain 'gets tired'. It does depend on the colors, also.
  • (other) At a certain point, my vision shuts down and I just can't read anymore.
  • (other) Blurry vision, halo
  • (other) Double vision in one eye or in both, and/or blurry with inability to focus sufficiently to read (one eye or both).
  • (other) I have trouble holding my eyes steady
  • (other) I lose the ability to change focus on other distances in a reasonable amount of time.
  • (other) I see spots if I try to read it too long.
  • (other) I squint a lot to try and make out the words.
  • (other) My vision may blur if I work at the computer for an extended period and this is worse if the display is not customized.
  • (other) Seeing spots and difficulty accommodating visually.
  • (headache) Depends upon: (1) the intensity of the sun or the light source that I am reading under, (2) whether I am wearing my glasses or not, (3) how close to the text or source of the text I am; (4) on the size of the text, and (5) on the contrast of the text to the surrounding medium (paper, computer screen, sky, etc.).
  • (tired) It takes great effort to read small print that is light also. It is frustrating and I tend to not want to read the material.
  • (other) Frustration I do not have products to help me read, e.g., magnifier.
  • (other) Frustration sets in
  • (other) get very frustrated
  • (other) I get annoyed.
  • (other) I get frustrated
  • (other) I need to use a magnifying glass. Very small text gets annoying.
  • (other) Mostly frustration.
  • (other) Sometimes I fall asleep, or just become irritated.
  • (tired) low contrast (gray text) as is popular on web sites even on a bright white background creates discomfort, even when only slightly gray, such as #333333. This constant fight shortens my effective day.
  • (tired) Both eyes getting tired - visual fatigue - and generalised fatigue becaues I have to concentrate quite hard.
  • (tired) Fatigue is a major factor.
  • (tired) "My eyes feel fatigued, and reading seems more blurry, after reading online for more than an hour or so.
  • I actually can't read any sites without zooming the text. :("
  • (tired) Since my detached retina I cannot read paper books for longer than 15-20 minutes before my eyes are fatigued.
  • (tired) When reading newsprint and other similar materials, my eyes fatigue very quickly, I have to take frequent breaks
  • (other) It is harder for me to focus so I have to take breaks
  • (other) Without magnification/color enhancements, I cannot read standard print at all. When I try, my eyes become fatigued.
  • (other) Eyes start to get watery.
  • (other) My eyes get teary and my eyelashes get the tears on the lens of my glasses. I wash my glasses over and over, trying to keep them clear.
  • (other) Watery eyes
  • (other) Without aids it seems that my eyes get tired and watery quicker than before but this isn't a major problem as I have realized that I need assistance to read and use that assistance (hand held magnifier or bigger computer screen)--at home at least I don't even try to read without my eye patch anymore and at work I do various slight at hand to cover my bad eye when reading text as I don't wear an eye patch at work.
  • (hurt) can water and be scratchy
  • (tired) Dry eyes make it difficult to read for long periods.
  • (other) Eyes get dry
  • (other) Get very dry from working at the computer, all day.. Your survey is well designed for reading, but I'm wearing the "readers."
  • (tired) My eyes get tired and dry.
  • (tired) My eyes get tired and sometimes I just stop looking at the page. With web sites I will just try to find another site that I can see. Don't get me started on modile phones.
  • (other) eyes get tired
  • (other) twitches in the lids
  • (headache) Sore, tired eyes more than head throbbing, while the constant annoyance of needing to zoom or disable styles contributes, to "headache".
  • (other) Blurred vision
  • (other) Blurred vision
  • (nausea, dizzy) from strain
  • (nausea, dizzy) headache and nausea
  • (nausea, dizzy) My nausea/vertigo increase. I usually just stop trying to read. It often is workable if I close one eye. The "chosen" eye varies according to which one is most bothersome at the time.
  • (nausea, dizzy) Strange or tiny text makes me very seasick.
  • (nausea, dizzy) The pressure placed on my eyes in reading situations, and the fact that my eyes move, make me feel sick to my stomach if I have been reading standard print...or anything...for too long.
  • (nausea, dizzy) The text starts to "float" and i get a bit seasick
  • (nausea, dizzy) This is definitely true, especially if there is a lot of light or the print is on a bright background.
  • (nausea, dizzy) When vision gets too blurry it makes me sick inside
  • (tired) I find it hard to concentrate on fonts that aren't sans serif and the letters blur into each other. I have to concentrate really hard and that makes my eyes hurt and I get a headache
  • (tired) Have difficulty reading "fancy" text or color combinations. I usually just give up and quit trying to read it. At church, the large screen monitor is very aggravating when they do not have good contrast between the background colors and the printing.
  • (tired) I just give up after a line or two, it's too much of a hassle.
  • (tired) I usually only read short articles from a paper newspaper or use a magnification device. If it is an electronic document, I can read a paragraph or so but would usually give up after that.
  • (tired) Most likely to just give up and quit reading
  • (other) I get frustrated, or just give up
  • (other) I stop reading! Eyes may feel dry or watery.
  • (other) Sometimes I just give up and I won't read what I need or like to read as it is too difficult.
  • (hurt) Eyes become very tired and I just want to quit reading
  • (headache) I probably would, if I continued trying to read it, but I get so tired of it, I just give up.
  • (headache) If it is not displayed to my reading comfort, I do not read it.
  • (headache) turn off the computer and do another task then returnt it

See Also

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