For low vision specialists and those who consult them
Vertical reading: what is the best way and how fast can it be?
March 11, 2010Posted by on
I have just read an interesting paper by Yu and colleagues from Minnesota in the most recent edition of Journal of Vision. I don’t often review papers based on people with good vision in this blog but I think it has some useful implications for people with some forms of visual impairment.
In it, the authors compare reading speed for text presented in four different forms. The first form is conventional, horizontally arranged, left-to-right words. They then look at text rotated 90º clockwise or anticlockwise (the same as rotating a book so the spine is horizontal). The final form is ‘marquee’ text where words are vertical but characters are the correct orientation,
For their most natural condition of extended lower case text, they find (unsurprisingly) that reading is quickest for conventional text. Roatating text clockwise or anticlockwise makes reading about half as fast, and the marquee form is slower still: it reduces reading speed to about one third of normal values.
Interestingly, rotating text clockwise gave slightly (although not statistically significantly) faster reading speeds that rotating anticlockwise. The authors speculate that reading top-to-bottom may be more natural than reading bottom-to-top.
Why is this relevant to a low vision blog? Well, as the authors point out, if someone with no central vision from macular disease uses retina to the side of their macula, rotating text may be a useful strategy so that letters do not fall into the non-seeing region. It shows that a simple page rotation is probably more useful than manipulating text into ‘marquee’ format.
What the authors don’t discuss (I was disappointed to notice) is people with hemianopia (where half of the visual field is missing, usually as a consequence of stroke or brain injury). In my clinical experience many people with hemianopia find text rotation useful, so that a whole line is visible at one time. This work shows that this simple rotation of text may be more useful for these people than any more complicated text manipulation approaches.