updated 08:09 pm EST, Mon November 12, 2012
Backlit screens key to aiding, increasing reading speed
Research presented on Sunday at the 116th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology shows that backlit tablets, such as the iPad and Kindle e-reader, help patients who suffer from vision problems due to eye diseases regain the ability to read at a comfortable level. The discovery could aid millions of people who have lowered vision because of conditions such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. In the study, the iPad was found to score the biggest improvement in helping readers regain a high and comfortable reading level.
Overall, users with moderate vision loss increased their reading speed by 15 words per minute on average. Patients with the poorest vision -- 20/40 or worse in both eyes -- show the most improvement using backlit tablets compared to print. When reading material was set to 18 point font size, iPad users improve their reading speed by at least 42 words per minute. The Kindle used in the study was an original model, which does not have a backlit screen. Nevertheless, subjects gained an average of 12 words per minute when using the Kindle. Amazon now sells Kindle models with both backlit and higher-brightness screens, meaning that using those newer models would likely produce much better results for people with low vision than the original Kindle.
Prior to the widespread use of backlit tablets, persons with low vision would usually have to rely on other, more cumbersome aids, such as lighted magnifiers, that slowed reading speed. The study tested 100 participants, and compared 18 point type on a tablet versus a print book or newspaper with large type. Though many eye diseases reduce contrast sensitivity, the backlit screen technology used by tablets such as the iPad -- with their ability to adjust contrast -- overcome being unable to discern shades of gray in people with vision problems.
Dr. Daniel Roth, one of the leaders of the study, said that his findings were that patients with low vision could significantly improve their reading ability and return to near-normal levels of reading for pleasure with the use of a relatively low-cost tablet. Because the initial study was limited to simply testing the iPad and the original Kindle, further studies would likely show that most high-quality backlit tablets would achieve roughly the same results.