Thankful for . . . Digital Tablets that Allow for Improved Reading with Low Vision

Another Thanksgiving has passed and no doubt we are all now stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie, have shared time with close friends and family, and recounted our blessings and good fortunes. This past Thanksgiving one thing that struck me while preparing for the holiday was how thankful I was for technology. I know, this sounds a bit trite in light of more serious issues, but I realized that everything from my dishwasher to my food processor and washer/dryer set really made these preparations easier. In the same regard, I’ve come to rely heavily on my digital tablet to make reading that much easier as well.

Interestingly enough, a recent study conducted at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey scientifically concluded what many of us have already discovered:  digital tablets increase speed and ease of reading in people with a moderate degree of vision loss. People who have suffered vision loss that cannot be fully remedied with corrective lenses or medical treatment are guided to use low-vision aids to enhance their remaining vision. In the past, lighted magnifiers or large-print books were among the few options to assist with reading. Today, new technologies are leading the way for those with low-vision to more fully engage in reading books, printed media, and on-line materials. We kept this fact in mind when designing the new BFS website which allows for font-size adjustment and is fully compatible with tablets and text-to-voice screen readers.

This study of 100 participants showed that every single person improved their ability to read using an electronic device, whether a tablet or e-reader, in comparison with reading text on a printed page. The key finding was that contrast sensitivity, which is the ability to distinguish an object separate from its background and discern shades of grey, plays the largest role in improving the reading ability of people with low-vision. The iPad tablet used in the study has a back-illuminated screen that significantly increases the word/background contrast and allowed low-vision readers to increase both speed and ease of reading. All study participants gained at least 42 words-per-minute when using the iPad™ tablet on the 18-point font setting. The comparative device, the original Kindle without a back-lit screen, also assisted with improved reading ease but with a gain of only 12 words-per-minute on average.

While tablets do require more of a financial outlay than books, keep in mind that many libraries now have extensive digital collections available to patrons and some even have tablets or e-readers that may be checked-out as well. Some libraries even offer workshops to learn how to use these devices to maximize library resources or have tech-savvy librarians who can provide one-on-one assistance. Contact your local library to see what is available to you. Also, some e-readers allow for sharing of e-books and other media among devices. Check with friends and family to find opportunities for sharing resources.

Do you use a digital tablet or other device for reading? Which one would you recommend to others and why?

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  1. […] for your eye health condition, you might look to technology for help. Research has shown that digital tablets and e-readers improve reading ability in those with low vision. Other assistive devices for low vision, such as magnifiers or screen […]

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