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Posted 11th February, 2011 by Jocelyn Gronow

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Research Report

Will changing the background colour of an electronic white board enable people to read black text more easily and more comfortably? 2009/10



In 1980 Olive Meares reported how students experienced a lessening of visual perceptive difficulties if the printed word was covered with a tinted plastic sheet. In 1981 Helen Irlen’s research identified a sub-group of students who, “Had adequate decoding skills, good phonetic skills and an adequate sight vocabulary, but still found reading exceedingly difficult and avoided it wherever possible.” They described a variety of visual impressions when looking at black text on a white background eg “The white spaces form rivers which run down the page”, or “When I start to read, the words become a black line and I don’t see them anymore.”

Initially, this pioneering work was greeted with scepticism. It wasn’t until 1995 that Arnold Wilkins became intrigued by Irlen’s claims that coloured filters ease the symptoms of visual stress. In 2003   he published ‘Reading Through Colour’, where he describes the results of rigorous research that confirmed the ideas of Meares and Irlen. He describes the syndrome as MIVS, Meares Irlen Visual Stress.  Wilkins also developed Intuitive Coloured Overlays, used increasingly by schools and colleges, a free downloadable screen tinter, available to all via the internet and a Colorimeter to be used as a diagnostic tool by qualified optometrists.

Studies reveal that up to 30% of children and adults find coloured overlays useful, although only 5% have a severe degree of MIVS. In 2005 B J Evans stated that, “Visual problems are not the cause of dyslexia although they contribute to reading difficulties and many dyslexics have visual difficulties such as binocular instability and accommodative insufficiency.” In the same year, Helen Irlen stated that 65% of people who are dyslexic have MIVS.


The research was undertaken at a college of further education. The teacher/researcher hoped that tinting the electronic whiteboard, so students no longer had to read black text on a white background, would prove an inclusive method of improving the learning environment for a large number of students without disadvantaging others.

252 people from 22 classes took part in the research; this included 33 members of staff. Classes ranged from Entry Level to Level 5, from craft, vocational and academic courses.  People were asked to read a text, based on Arnold Wilkin’s Rate of Reading Test, displayed on an electronic whiteboard, on first a white background and then to make a visual comparison between this and the same text on yellow, green, blue, orange and red backgrounds. People then read for a second time, the same text on the group’s preferred colour background. To eliminate the influence of practice, data from control groups, who read twice on a white background were collected.

Research findings

Results of the research showed that a light green background disadvantaged less people than other colours, including white, and advantaged most. Statistically, for most people there was no significant difference in reading efficiency on a white or tinted background. However, for the minority there was such a significant benefit they would be severely disadvantaged by not changing the background colour of the board from white to green. It was also interesting to note that students on lower level courses would benefit most.



This simple adjustment could provide a cost effective, inclusive learning support technique which can be replicated in all classrooms that have an electronic whiteboard.

  • Anonymous

    I heard about Jocelyn’s research nearly a year ago. She is too modest to say how well it was received at a London Southbank University research seminar, and how she gained her MA as a result. Well done! Now that college lecturers are using interactive whitebaords almost as a matter of course now, this is such an easy adaptation to make study more dyslexia friendly.

  • Anne Betteridge

    It was very interesting to read this report.  I was doing this in 2002/3 when I was teaching a group of dyslexic adults in a basic literacy class in an FE college in Portsmouth.  The consensus was that a silver/grey background was most helpful but this was achieved without the benefits of such research.  I am a support tutor now, working in HE on a 1-1 basis, but if I get the chance to use an interactive whiteboard again I will try the light green background.  I have just discovered Crossbow’s coloured, small whiteboards which are very useful!

  • Peter Irons


    I first recognised the problems with white
    boards when a student I was teaching complained that he couldn’t read the text
    when a green pen was used – black OK, red OK’ish but green not at all! This
    started me thinking and many years later a biological based solution emerged
    from this research and since 1998 we have been calculating
    the optimal colour background setting   for individual Higher
    education students who have been identified as being
    dyslexic. This forms part of their
    DSA and to date we have worked with over
    11,000 dyslexic students, probably the biggest sample of dyslexic adults in the

    For each person , their
    precise optimal settings were calculated. When this background is used the
    vast majority become dramatically more fluent and
    the phonics problems are minimised.

    Our data base tells us that  by
    slightly reducing the red component on a computer screen ( creating a cyan/
    light green colour) this will benefit 
    more people than by reducing the green
    component ( producing a magenta screen).

    BUT in most cases a person who benefits from a light magenta
    screen will experience worse problems from that light green settings than they
    would have done on white.

    Each person is different, their needs are different. but
    getting it right can be dramatic.

    For example, a person might get benefit
    from a light cyan ,but not enough to affect their personal outcomes.  With
    a CORRECT setting then  the outcome can be life-changing.

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