Print disability is a condition related to blindness, visual impairment, specific learning disability or other physical condition in which the student needs an alternative or specialized format (i.e., Braille, Large Print, Audio, Digital text) in order to access and gain information from conventional printed materials. Print disability is easiest to understand when considering how the student interacts with printed materials. Print disability is not a new disability classification but refers to the functional ability of a student with a disability such as blindness, low vision, learning disabilities or physical disabilities. It commonly affects students with blindness, visual impairments, learning disabilities or physical conditions that make it difficult to hold a book or turn a page. In comparison to visual and physical disabilities, learning-based print disabilities are not visible. They must be identified by qualified professionals (e.g., teachers, resource teachers, speech-language pathologists) who have expertise in understanding and assessing reading development, and can provide appropriate interventions and remediation. If a student has a learning-based print disability, he or she may demonstrate the following challenges:
- Difficulty with decoding words
- Slow, effortful reading
- Poor comprehension because so much effort goes into decoding text
- Difficulty in accessing content
- Lack of independence, self-esteem, confidence, and choice
- Lack of exposure to text which negatively impacts growth of vocabulary and language
The challenges can have different roots, such as dyslexia, visual tracking issues, phonemic awareness, or others. They may be related to a language disorder or, may be more specifically rooted in reading itself. No matter the cause(s), the problems become worse over time when students are not provided with appropriate interventions. Students need to be assessed one-on-one to determine if an alternate format with assistive technology (such as e-text with text-to-speech) will help to bypass the problem. Many of these students enter into a vicious cycle of withdrawal from text. Frustrated, they often stop reading, losing the text exposure necessary for reading development and, ultimately, for the acquisition of knowledge and understanding in all subjects.
However, with certain level of patience and guidance, these students can be provided sufficient help to read and write efficiently.