When we’re considering the fluency-limiting effects of the field of view of a magnifier, it’s not just about the magnifier itself. We also need to consider the line-length of the text. For instance, consider these two texts — same magnification, same field of view, but quite a different reading experience:
With the column text, the only movement needed is a slow downwards scroll to read all text. With the full page-width text, you need to continually scroll side-to-side.
So it’s very desirable to have (a) a magnifier with as wide a field as possible, and (b) text with as short a line-length as possible.
Books Have the Longest Lines
Where this really bites is that when people are wanting to achieve immersive reading, they are usually reading standard books, which have more words-per-line than just about anything else. Newspaper and magazines use column print, so tend to be easier to read quickly, but those are reading tasks that don’t tend to need such high fluency. Bibles are an example of a text that is in columns that people may want to read fluently for a long period.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get books converted to column text? It would certainly make it easier to achieve fast-fluent reading using a wider range of the stronger magnifiers.
Well, we can. Kind of. Sort of. We have to cheat.
Shortening the Line
One option that fits the bill is to use a scanning CCTV such as Humanware’s Prodigi.
Instead of displaying a directly magnified image of the page, such magnifiers scan the page, extract a text file by OCR (optical character recognition), and display that text file in one continuous column. No matter what magnification is chosen, the user only has to scroll downwards, never side-to-side.
The other (my favourite!) is to switch to reading eBooks, using an iPad, Kindle or other tablet reader. eBook versions are available of almost any book nowadays, and sometimes it’s even possible to borrow them from your local library.
There are some really great advantages to using a tablet. Like CCTVs, they can display very large text with excellent contrast and brightness, but (unlike CCTVs) they don’t just display the text in a column, they paginate it.
For the Best Reading Experience, Use Pagination
Pagination means the reader doesn’t have to scroll sideways, nor do they have to scroll downwards. When you scroll column text downwards, you have to make a refixation and search up to the left to find the point where you resume reading. If you’ve scrolled too little, you end up re-reading some of the lines you’ve already read. If you’ve scrolled too far, you have to figure that out, scroll back a bit, and then try again.
When the text is paginated, the reader has a consistent location for resuming text. It’s always in the same position, the top left of the page. Refixating to that point is a habit we’ve all learned since we very first learned to read. In this way, the reader can maintain a very high reading fluency, even ir the text is so magnified that there are only a dozen words per page. Rapid page turning generally just involves a light tap on one side of the screen, which is not hard to do.
The other great thing about reading with a tablet is that the reader is able to read wherever they like — instead of having to sit at a desk with a CCTV or reading stand, they can sit in their favourite armchair, at the kitchen table, even lie in bed. This isn’t just a matter of convenience — some of our low vision patients are too frail to sit at a desk, or have no room for a CCTV, or are unable to leave their beds. It’s great to have an option for them.