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Take Visual Stress Seriously: Articles
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Visual Stress and Reading: "Is That What You Mean
By A Word?"
Last year, the state of Indiana was the latest in a succession of US states which will not require its schoolchildren to learn joined-up, or cursive, writing. The move is part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which aims to ensure consistency in US education and makes no mention of handwriting.
Some critics say writing well is a vital skill for life and builds character, and that there is a link between kinaesthetic memory and spelling. Supporters of the move say that typing skills are more useful in the modern digital world, and that keyboarding develops kinaesthetic memory as well as cursive writing. But whatever is propounded by theorists, the fact is that handwriting remains an important medium for learning and communication, and is still going to be with us
I remember teaching a child in year 9 (we’ll call him Sammy) who was so ashamed of his handwriting that he covered everything he wrote (which, to be fair, was very little) with his left hand as he wrote it. He hated what he saw in his exercise books – so he put nothing into them, or, if he really couldn’t avoid having to do something, he made sure he could see as little as possible of what he wrote. His behaviour, not surprisingly, was a constant problem, and the last I heard of him, he had become yet another exclusion statistic.
The article above looks at Visual Stress and reading. The same applies to writing: a person with Visual Stress writing on white paper may well see the letters moving around as they write. The result can be seen in the example (below) on the left. When they come to read what they have written, it is moving around again…
Now look at the example on the right: the same child, the same words, the same lesson. All that has changed is the paper. And the presentation, and the legibility, and the spelling of about eight words, and the child’s self-esteem…
I wonder what would have become of Sammy’s life if he’d had tinted exercise books to work in? Tinted exercise books cost more than plain white ones, but exclusion, and in many cases prison, costs a lot more still.
Take Visual Stress seriously.
Display Screen Equipment Hazards
University of Sheffield and UMIST conducted a stress survey on call centre workers for Health & Safety Executive (HSE) entitled “Psychosocial risk factors in call centres: An evaluation of work design and well-being”.
As well as the stress factors involved in handling calls an exploratory study also pinpointed a range of other hazards that could also risk both the psychological and the physical well-being of call centre employees. These included display screen equipment, and call waiting information displays. Potential hazards specific to vocal and optical health were also highlighted.
The study found that the understanding of good practice in relation to DSE, not only amongst frontline call handlers but also by managers and health and safety advisors, was sometimes very limited.
NHS Healthy Scotland has a leaflet on Visual Stress available on the link below. In fact they have gone as far as to introduce this leaflet for potential sufferers to take to an optometrist (usually called an Orthoptist in Scotland) for an eye check to determine which colour overlay is the most effective.
The leaflet states: Some people experience Visual Stress (referred to in the leaflet as Meares Irlen Syndrome, or MIS) symptoms after reading for a short time: others find that it takes longer for the symptoms to occur. The severity of symptoms also varies from person to person, the more marked the symptoms, the greater the barrier to successful reading. It is more common in children and adults with specific learning difficulties but it is thought to exist in a surprisingly large number of normal readers.
In both groups, the symptoms of Visual Stress can prevent an individual reaching their maximum potential in education/ occupation.
Survey results on lost workdays and decreased work effectiveness associated with headache in the workplace.
During 1993 and 1994 in Baltimore County, Maryland, 13,343 study subjects were contacted by random-digit dialing and interviewed about their headaches. Headache diagnoses were assigned using Internationally recognised criteria for migraine and tension-type headaches. Measures of workplace impact were derived based on self-reports of missing work due to headache, and frequency and magnitude of reduced work level because of headache.:
The following figures were reported from the 13,343 respondents whose work was impacted by headaches:
9.4% took time off work
31% reported reduced work level
9.2% reported reduced work level by more than 50% .
In accounting for both actual lost workdays and reduced effectiveness at work, individuals lost the equivalent of 4.2 days per year because of headache.
Different effects of Migraines and Tension type headaches
57% of the 9922 annual estimated actual lost workdays were due to migraine, and 43% were due to tension-type and other headache types. 64% off the 23,287 annual estimated reduced effectiveness workday equivalents were due to tension-type and other headache types whereas 36% were due to migraine, showing that subjects with migraine headache were much more likely to report actual lost workdays because of headache, whereas tension-type and other headache types accounted for a large proportion of decreased work effectiveness because of headache.
The report drew the following conclusion: “The results have implications regarding the control of indirect costs in the workplace because of headache, and on workplace-based treatment and prevention programs”. (Adapted. Click here for original text.)
The Health & Safety Executive has a handbook on the Law and Visual Display Units, which also serves as a useful guide to reducing risk. The following information is abridged from the guide available for download in this section. This is just summary information and the full HSE guide should be followed correctly. The Guide also refers to other information sources which must be read and adhered to, including the Display Screen Equipment Regulations.
Page 13 of the HSE guide has a checklist to help you comply and is referred to in many of the steps. There is a link to the free guide at the end of this section.
Step 1: Decide who is covered by the Regulations
The Regulations apply where there are people who ‘habitually use display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work’. So, not everyone who uses a VDU is covered by the Regulations - only those most likely to be at risk. You need to decide who these people are. Remember to include home workers and agency ‘temps’, if you have any.
People using a VDU more or less continuously on most days will be covered by the Regulations. So, usually, are others who:
normally use a VDU for continuous or near-continuous spells of an hour or more at a time; and use it in this way more or less daily;
and have to transfer information quickly to or from the display screen equipment;
and also need to apply high levels of attention and concentration;
or are highly dependent on VDUs to do the job or have little choice about using them;
or need special training or skills to use the equipment.
Step 2: Train users and assessors
Arrange training for users on risks, safe behaviour and practices. Step 3 requires you to assess workstations. Assessors will need to recognise risky workstation layouts, environments and practices.
You can train your own staff to do this job. Good user training should normally cover:
the risks from display screen equipment work;
the importance of good posture and changing position; how to adjust furniture to help avoid risks;
organising the workplace to avoid awkward or frequently repeated stretching movements;
avoiding reflections and glare on or around the screen;
adjusting and cleaning the screen and mouse;
organising work for activity changes or breaks if necessary;
who to contact for help and to report problems or symptoms;
contributing to the risk assessment, eg completing checklists.
Step 3: Assess workstations and reduce the risks
Good training for workstation assessors will cover the points above, plus:
deciding when additional information and help is needed, and where to go for it;
how to draw conclusions from assessments and identify steps to reduce risks;
how to tell those who need to take action on findings, and give feedback;
getting familiar with HSE guidance Display screen equipment work: Guidance
Completed assessments will need to be reviewed when:
new users start work, or change workstations;
workstations are relocated;
the nature of work tasks changes considerably.
Step 4: Make sure workstations and equipment comply with minimum requirements
The Schedule to the Regulations sets out some minimum requirements for ergonomic features that workstations should have (whether or not they are used by a user).
Manufacturers and suppliers can assist, but remember that you as the employer have the duty to ensure items comply.
The Schedule covers broad design factors for furniture; the VDU hardware, software and accessories; and the workstation environment. It applies to equipment bought second-hand and new. It does not include detailed measurements and specifications. There is no requirement for equipment to comply with British or international standards. (However, choosing things that do comply with relevant standards - such as BS EN ISO 9241 - can help make sure they will satisfy or go beyond the requirements in the Schedule.)
Step 5: Plan changes of activity or breaks for users
Breaking up long spells of VDU work helps prevent fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache. Where possible, include spells of other work, eg telephone calls, filing, photocopying etc. If such changes of activity are not possible the law requires you to plan for users to take rest breaks.
When organising users’ work the following points may help:
vary the tasks, eg encourage users to walk across to a colleague to get information, rather than e-mailing or using the phone;
remind users to stretch and change position;
encourage users to look into the distance from time to time, and to blink often;
breaks should be taken before users get tired, rather than to recover;
individual control over work patterns is the ideal - but make sure users don’t get carried away and work intensely for too long -
save breaks to take a few longer ones-
imposed rest breaks may sometimes be the only solution, eg in some data preparation or call centre work;
breaks should be taken away from the screen if possible.
Step 6: Provide eye tests and any necessary spectacles for VDU work
If you employ users, or those about to become users, they can request an eye and eyesight test that you have to pay for. If the test shows they need glasses specifically for their VDU work, you have to pay for a basic pair of frames and lenses. Users are entitled to further tests at regular intervals after the first test, and in between if they are having visual difficulties which may reasonably be considered to be caused by their VDU work.
VDU work does not cause permanent damage to eyes or eyesight. Eye tests are provided to ensure that users can comfortably see the screen, to work effectively without visual fatigue. Tinting the screen to individual requirements, using tinted monitor overlays or screen tinting software, can significantly increase comfort and significantly reduce the need for more expensive eye tests and spectacles.
Step 7: Tell users what you have done
Give users information on:
HSE Guide Access the free download here
This article was written for the Association of Teachers of Singing, and sent to us. What applies to music notes on a white page applies equally to letters! In particular, the author emphasises the effects of pressure on her students, and how this seems to increase visual difficulties for her students. Her experience highlights the need for coloured overlays or reading rulers to be available for more students, especially in examinations.
It all started with a student who could play beautifully and read music well. Yet even though her ability was grade four and her sight -reading excellent, she played badly in front of others. Her frustration was very distressing to me as a teacher. Endless support and encouragement helped but did not improve her performing consistently. Over the next few months I noticed a pattern in her sudden loss of ability. They happened when she was a little under the weather, had masses of homework or perhaps had an upset with a friend or family member. A comment from a friend led me to see if there was any problem with her possibly being dyslexic. I ordered some coloured overlays and waited rather sceptically for her next lesson. It was a bad day, concentration was low and she had had a row with her mother over some school shoes. We struggled through a bit of sight-reading practice and then I tried out the coloured overlays one colour at a time. Some made it worse and some made it a little easier. Then I put the yellow one over the music. She played it beautifully! We tried several more pieces and to the astonishment of both of us the improvement was without a doubt obvious.
Since this success I have tried these sheets with all my students who stumble and are frustrated by their lack of progress and I am amazed by the results. Over one third of my students have improved enormously with the sheets for both piano and sight singing. Their ages range from eight to seventy two. It has also improved the reading of several students including three of the “over sixties” who had previously blamed their opticians for wrongly prescribed reading glasses for when they read through an overlay they have no problem at all. Since then I have had several discussions with an expert in dyslexia in this area. I have found that many people develop a low opinion of themselves and of their performance. We’ve all heard “I can play it perfectly at home” but the added pressure of playing for your teacher (the one you most want to play well for) puts the pressure level too high and the black notes on white paper just move about, making it impossible for the student to concentrate enough to keep them still.
These coloured overlays have been a godsend for many of my students who have felt, in their own words “discouraged, stupid, useless and moronic”. They have turned several into excellent sight—readers who previously went into a panic at the mention of “sight-reading”. Somehow the colours soothe the eyes and help to calm the student. Even the experts on dyslexia cannot explain how they work. I can only say that they do work and do so very dramatically. The colour of the sheet is not the same for every student. Some are better with green, others with red or blue. I’ve found the most popular colour is yellow but the student knows straight away. “lt’s like your headache just went away” is a common comment.
A student’s self worth is enormously important. If we want emotional performances from them they need to be self assured and happy with themselves. These sheets have given back to several students that great spark of enthusiasm for music and even more importantly for singers the gift of “I can look at myself in a mirror” ...
...Why as teachers should we go to the expense and bother? ... But the rewards are great. To watch a student change from a head down slouch to an upright confident strut says it all! (By Lynn Cocup. Reproduced with permission)