Make it Readable Survey Report


Vision impairment is prevalent in 4% of the New Zealand population and is more prevalent as people age (11% in adults over 65 years). People with vision impairments can face limitations in daily activities when they struggle to read printed material.

Newspapers and food/supermarket products were most commonly identified as being hard to read. Books (particularly telephone books) and magazines were also often identified as being difficult to read.

It was also found that many materials were hard to read for multiple reasons. Materials were most commonly hard to read due to the size of the words and colour of the background.


1. Introduction

Vision impairment is defined as a limitation of at least one function of the eye or visual system. This includes a reduction in the sharpness or clarity of vision (visual acuity). The prevalence of vision impairment increases with age. The New Zealand Disability Survey conducted in 2013 estimated 168,000 people (4% of the population) were limited in their daily activities by vision impairment. This varied by age with 11% of adults over 65 experiencing limitations related to vision impairment compared to 2% for adults aged 15 to 44.

People with visual impairments can face limitations in daily activities when they struggle to read printed material. Material with poor contrast, small font size, busy backgrounds and other elements can make readability a struggle for people with normal vision and worse for those with visual impairments. As a result, people with visual impairments can become functionally illiterate, less informed and less connected to their communities.

The Make it Readable (MIR) campaign, run by Sight loss services, aims to draw attention to the issue of material which is difficult to read. It aims to advocate for readable material and persuade those producing print materials to adopt readable print guidelines. 

The campaign was funded as part of the Think Differently fund which is a social change campaign which seeks to encourage and support a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people. Think Differently project funding also includes support from Synergia Ltd, a consulting company specialising in the health and social sector.

As part of the MIR campaign, a survey was conducted with support from Synergia. This survey asked people to provide information on the materials that they struggled to read during their daily lives and the reasons these materials were hard to read.


This report presents the findings from the MIR survey. This introduction is followed by the method used and the findings are then presented in two sections; things that were hard to read, and the reasons these things were hard to read. This is followed by the conclusions from this report.


2. Method

Sight loss services liaised with GreyPower to identify a group of people aged over 65 living in Auckland and Otago who could be invited to participate in the survey. The survey invitation was also placed on the Sight loss services website.

The survey was hosted on the Survey Monkey platform, as this is accessible for a broad range of electronic devices. People also had the option to receive a paper copy of the survey with a postage paid envelope if they preferred to respond to a hard copy survey. People were encouraged to respond multiple times by entering each item they found hard to read. Two $100 grocery vouchers were provided as an incentive.

The survey was opened in June 2015 and this report presents the findings from June to October 2015.

In total, there were 108 responses.                                                                

·         These responses came from 69 individual people[1].

·         These responses mentioned 115 different items as some responses mentioned multiple items on the same form.·         23 responses in June, 26 in July, 8 in August, 31 in September, and 20 responses    in October.

·         More responses came from females (74%) than males (26%).

·         Many responses came from Auckland (38%) and Otago (25%) but there were also many responses from other places in the country (37%).


 1 As this survey was anonymous the number of people is based on duplicate email addresses and phone numbers provided voluntarily. This may be an overestimate if an individual made multiple entries without supplying their email or phone number.

 2.1 Data Analysis


Closed response questions were collated by Survey Monkey’s data analysis engine. Open ended responses were coded into key themes and summarised to provide an insight into the views and experiences of people struggling to read printed material.


2.2 Limitations


The nature of the survey is to explore what is hard to read rather than the prevalence of coming across difficult to read material. It should be noted that there will be people who came across unreadable material who did not record it in this survey. While this report only focuses on the material that was reported in the survey anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem of finding material hard to read is common and widespread.


 3. What is hard to Read?

People were asked what type of item they found hard to read. Categories included newspaper, magazine, book, advertising flyer, website, business cards, and ‘other’. As almost half (48%) of item responses indicated an ‘other’ item was hard to read, these have been thematically coded to provide a more accurate indication of the items that people found hard to read. 

Newspapers were the most commonly identified item that was hard to read followed by food or other supermarket products (Figure 1). It is also concerning that four people indicated medical products, e.g. “Pill Bottle,” that were hard to read. This could impact on their safety as well as quality of life.

There were a further 14 ‘other’ items that were vague or only mentioned once. These included “parking fee receipt”, “newsletter”, “labels” and “shop signs”.

Figure 1: What type of item was hard to read? (n=69 individual respondents)




3.1Where does hard to read material come from?

Hard to read material comes from a wide range of different sources. People were asked the title of the material or where it came from. There were 80 responses where the source was identifiable, spread across 51 different sources.

The most commonly identified source of hard to read material was the NZ Herald, identified by 13 people. This was followed by the phone book (both yellow and white pages) which was identified as hard to read by eight people. Other sources of hard to read material includes: 


Waikato Times (2)

NZ Hunting and Fishing (1)

Dunedin City Council (1)

Webb Farry Ward (1)

Otago Daily Times (2)

Australian Women’s Weekly (1)

Continental Soup (1)

NZ Post (1)

Dominion Post (2)

TV Guide (1)

Ministry of Social Development (1)

Gu Fruity Puds (1)

NZ Gardener (2)

Fish and Game NZ (1)

Health and Disability Commissioner (1)

Dettol (1)

New World (2)

Novel (1)

Air NZ (1)

Oxo stock cubes (1)

Southland Times (2)

Fly buys (1)

Passport Office (1)

Nescafe (1)

Grey Power Magazine (1)

Tip Top product (1)

Carpet Court Rhino carpet (1)

Warehouse Easter eggs (1)

Pams (1)

Auckland Art Gallery (1)

Rodney Times (1)


Samsung (1)

Maggi (1)

North Shore Times (1)


NZ Government (1)

Wises street map (1)

NZ Geographic (1)


Elizabeth Arden cosmetics (1)

AA Directions (2)

Health and Disability Commissioner (1)


De Lorenzo shampoo (1)

Event Cinemas (2)

Motor and Caravan Magazine (1)


Power One (1)

Edmonds product (2))

Motorhome Magazine (1)


Go Healthy Probiotics (1)

Fresh n Fruity (2)






Materials can be hard to read for a variety of reasons. The most common reason provided was the size of the words (76%; Figure 2). 

“The name of the product is always clear it’s the directions for use etc which is too small to read.”

This was followed by the colour of the background (66%) which was often mixed with a difficult to read colour of words (48%).

“Pale blue print on white background is impossible to read.”

Figure 2: Why was this hard to read? (n=86 responses)

Ten people said their material was hard to read for all four reasons of size of words, colour of background, colour of words and type of font. The three ‘other’ responses included printing that was too light, lack of border, and busy backgrounds:

“Text in small white letters printed over coloured photograph of a supermarket shelf filled with different coloured items.”

Different types of materials were hard to read for different reasons (Figure 3). For example, size of words was a reason for 71% of books identified (mainly phone books) compared to websites where 50% thought colour of background was a reason it was difficult to read and only 17% thought size of words made reading it difficult. 

Figure 3: Reasons different materials were hard to read

Although the impact of these hard to read items on daily life was not specifically asked, a few people made comments indicating how it impacted them:

“It defeats the purpose as one just doesn't read the article.”

“A great Magazine, to which I am a long time subscriber, however, very small print throughout its content, often making the use of a magnifying glass, in addition to glasses, necessary.”



The results from the MIR survey provide a useful insight into the types of materials that are difficult to read and the reasons for this difficulty. This will provide some useful information when advocating for readable material and informing those producing print materials about the most common readability issues faced by readers. Many of the individual entries also supply sufficient detail to provide specific examples to the people producing material that is difficult to read.

The MIR survey has shown that there is a large amount of items that people find hard to read. Some of the most frequently identified items included newspapers, food products, and phone books. These are items that will impact on the quality of life of people with vision impairments through reducing their connection with community and being less informed about the products they can purchase.

The survey has also demonstrated some of the most common reasons for different items being hard to read. Overall, the size of words and colour of background were the most common issues.

Going forward, the MIR campaign may benefit from directly exploring the impact of not being able to read information on people. This could be achieved through conducting some case studies with a selection of people who have participated in the survey. It would help to communicate the importance of readable written material and the impact that not being able to read material has on peoples’ behaviour and quality of life.