Annette Hayka squints as she tries to read the numbers in the new phone book.
Her eyesight hasn’t suddenly failed her, and she doesn’t need to renew the prescription on her glasses. Bell Canada has just reduced the font size on the Northwestern Ontario phone book—and many people are saying that’s not fair.
Bell spokeswoman Catherine Hudson said the font size in the phone book was reduced from 7.3 to 6.0, making them able to squeeze an average of 270 lines on a page instead of the 230 in last year’s directory.
Hudson insisted cost-cutting was not the reason for the smaller print.
“Basically as the population in an area grows or as towns amalgamates, the amount of listings in the white pages also increases,” Hudson said Friday.
“To ensure that the phone directory remains a manageable size and weight for people to use, we look at different options such as reducing the font size,” she added.
Keeping the phone book manageable meant cutting 67 pages from the white pages this year.
Even though the print is smaller, Hudson said it is not an unprecedented size.
“The size of the characters that were used in the directory is comparable to those used in dictionaries and other reference materials which are meant for a quick search as opposed to the text that you would find in books, newspapers, or magazines that require longer reading,” she noted.
But not everyone is happy with the new font size. “I don’t think much of it. You need a magnifying glass to read it,” said Hayka.
“I don’t think too many people will be able to read it, especially seniors, and three-fourths of the population is seniors around here,” she added.
“You’d have to have a magnifying glass to see that. I don’t think that’s right,” said Viola Dittaro. “Even my daughter would have a hard time reading that and she’s not old.
“It’s no good for elderly people. I guess we don’t count,” she remarked.
Janet Skinner, a vision rehabilitation nurse with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, said the smaller print definitely will affect seniors throughout the district.
Twenty-five percent of all seniors have a vision problem of some kind, she noted.
“We tell seniors to get magnification devices and encourage them to have enhanced lighting to read the telephone book,” she said. “They often have to have family members or care-givers take down numbers they need and make it in large print.”
Skinner said Bell Canada should create a large print or Braille version of the phone book for those who can’t read the small print.
“All customers should be able to access communications material. Alternative formats should be made available,” she argued.
Hudson said Bell Canada does offer a services for those who can’t read the phone book. She said seniors over age 65, or those with vision impairments, can apply for an exemption to directory assistance charges so they can call 411 when looking for a phone number.
“There are other solutions, such as the Internet-based directories, which we find are meeting the needs of increasing numbers of users,” she added.
But Skinner said clients may find calling directory assistance extremely frustrating and not as helpful as a phone book. “I hope the public do advocate for larger print,” she remarked.
Hayka has her own solution. “I’m going to keep my old one,” she said. “I won’t be using the new one.”