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Angelita's User Experience:
"Confessions of a Miserable Low Vision Computer User"


Each day I see differently depending on the level of inflammation in my cornea. I need inverse contrast; white backgrounds create blinding glare that is very painful. I need different levels of magnification for different content, even for different elements in a single document. I sometimes save PDFs as text, but then I lose all the visual aspects. I want to be able to customize the style in PDF. When things work, it's great! For example, with the iPad I can now read to my son as never before. However, things often don't work. Most days I walk away from my PC discouraged, in significant pain, and completely fatigued.


Alas, even though I have had low vision and have been using computers for decades, I find I lack the vocabulary to articulate the myriad computer headaches I encounter each and every day. I wish every website and software developer could spend a day with a low vision user like me to see firsthand what obstacles they are placing in our path. Who can we tell, who will listen? So many of us are suffering silently because we can’t seem to find anyone who cares or is willing to help…

My vision

I was born with a number of eye conditions which caused my low vision and have had varying degrees of low vision throughout my life. After correction, my vision ranges from 20/100 to 20/700. Each day I see differently depending on the level of inflammation in my cornea. I am very nearsighted, am color blind and am also very photophobic (bright lights hurt my eyes and make it impossible for me to see).

My conditions are not correctable with glasses, but I can sometimes wear a macro contact lens which helps me tremendously. I also use reading glasses.

Hardware and system settings

I use Microsoft Office 2010 and Windows 7 on an HP Touch Smart all-in-one computer. I also use an iPad.

On the PC, I reduce the resolution by about 25%, increase the custom DPI font size to 200%, and activate the high contrast black settings. I also activate the extra-large mouse pointer scheme.

The HP Touch Smart has been a real blessing as it reduces the need to position a mouse. Many low vision people have poor hand eye coordination, but it is surprisingly easy to position the cursor by touching the screen. The touch screen has also been great for scrolling through large print documents, keeping the text in the visual field and speeding up the reading rate.

On the iPad, I use the inverse brightness settings and the zoom feature. I also set the notes, e-book and email apps to use largest font size settings. Each week our pastor emails me the bulletin and I use my PC to enlarge the font, increase the margins and resave it for use on my iPad. I am delighted that I can now effortlessly follow along during worship and can look up and read scripture to myself at church. I can now also read to my son as never before. Still, there are a lot of access barriers on the iPad, but I will save those for another lament.

Assistive Technology

I absolutely hate using the leading adaptive screen enlargement programs like Zoomtext and Magic because they tend to enlarge every image equally and waste a lot of space on the screen. Usually, they do not wrap the information into the visible field and one must scroll back and forth. This is very jumpy and tiresome on the eyes. It seems no company tests their high contrast/ inverse setting features with real world low vision users, and so customizing colors is usually just a guessing game.


For reading email In Outlook I love the preview settings. There is a scroll bar slider on the bottom of the preview screen which allows me to enlarge the text in an email. Each email requires a different level of magnification; even different elements in a single email require custom magnification. This is one of the best features of late. It works well when the email is set to rewrap the enlarged information as size increases.

Other emails do not rewrap, so as text is enlarge text falls off the right side of the screen making it impossible to read. I feel especially frustrated because this custom zoom slider disappears when I actually open the email, so I try to read email only from the preview screen.

Parts or much of many emails are unreadable because of some setting in the original document. This setting does not allow my inverse contrast settings to work, so text appears as pale yellow on white. Even for a fully sighted reader, the yellow does not contrast sufficiently with the background, and the white background basically blinds me! You can’t imagine how physically painful this is on my eyes, and how disheartening it is for me as well.

Sometimes I try to copy the email text into a word document to see if I can read it there. Sometimes this works well, but at other times the copy also copies the white background so I still can’t see the information.

Word and text documents

Basic Word documents are usually pretty easy to read when I have a text document which allows me to alter formatting. I first try to use the “fit to width” zoom setting. At other times, depending on the document’s original font size, I use the 200% zoom. Occasionally I need to zoom in from there.

PDF documents

In the past, PDF documents used to be easy to read. Sometimes a document opens as black on black or white on white. The white background/ yellow text barrier is a newer problem. More often than not, lately when I open in my inverse settings I get yellow text on a white background. I can’t seem to figure out how to work with that. Sometimes I will highlight the text and that changes the color to purple. Sometimes I can read that, but only in snippets.

Protecting the Design

Sometimes I can save a pdf as text only and that helps, but that also eliminates so many of the graphic design features which add to the visual interest of a document. It is extremely boring when all print information is exactly the same. Low vision readers deserve style too, just usable style. Adjustable style, customizable style if that makes any sense.

All white backgrounds on PDFs and other documents are particularly troublesome as they create blinding glare for me. It is very painful. Most days I walk away from my PC discouraged, in significant pain, and completely fatigued.


I do use audio text features but they make it difficult to skim documents. They also cannot provide access to the visual stylistic elements. On the other hand, audio text is essential for effectively proofreading documents.


Pictures and Graphics

Looking at pictures on the web is a nightmare when one uses inverse settings. Why can’t these settings ignore the actual photos? It seems technically achievable since when I play a Netflix or YouTube video on my PC, I do not get an inverse image.

User style sheets

I am not exactly sure what style sheets are or what settings I use here. I definitely try to suppress background images when possible. I have a zoom bar at the bottom of my Windows Internet Explorer 8 and I absolutely love that! I start at a 200% zoom and then zoom in or out depending on what is on the website. Sometimes I need to go to 300%. It all depends on the design of the website. It is most frustrating that only some elements of a website are accessible. Some elements still have the all-white background. Others come out in large print, but the form field does not enlarge so I can’t see what I am typing in or what it is on the drop down menu.

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