At the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting, researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School reported on a study that found that digital tablets improve reading speeds for people with low vision. The study was made up of two separate experiments. In the first experiment, 62 people read newspaper articles in three formats – a print version, a computer printout, and on an iPad. More than half of the participants had evidence of muscular eye disease. The study found that participants read faster on the iPad than with either the newspaper or computer printout, and this held true for both readers with standard vision and those with low vision.
In the second experiment, 100 people read a book chapter in three ways – in a traditional book, on an iPad, and on an Amazon Kindle. Participants read the chapter twice on each of the tablets, once at 12 point font and once at 18 point font. When using the iPad at the 18 point font setting, participants increased their reading speed by 42 words-per-minute faster than when reading the printed book. When using the Kindle at the 18 point font setting, participants increased their speed by 12 words-per-minute faster than the printed book.
The eye’s contrast sensitivity tends to decrease as people age, and contrast sensitivity loss is a common problem for many people with low vision. A loss of contrast sensitivity makes it difficult for readers to distinguish text from the surrounding background. The researchers speculate that the iPad’s backlit screen may be important in increasing reading speed and comfort for people with low vision, since it provides more color contrast and luminosity contrast than traditional printed materials. The Kindle used in the study did not have a backlit screen, although newer Kindle models with backlit screens are now available.