Low Vision News

For low vision specialists and those who consult them

Vertical reading: what is the best way and how fast can it be?

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.


3 responses to “Vertical reading: what is the best way and how fast can it be?

  1. Isamu Ashida December 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I am Japanese. Recently I wrote a book, titled, “Writing European Languages in Vertical Ladder Laout to Maximaize Visual Intake,” (Authorhouse, coming soon) in which I emphasized reading vertical enhaces reading comprehension much better than horizontal reading as the result of vertical visual eye movements where so-called binocular disparity is minimal and therefore uninterrupted, stressless and quiet reading concentration is attainable. My vertical writing means not merely resetting sentences in 90 degree rotated nor marquee text forms. It is gramatically governed form of texts
    alighed vertically througout as shown briefly below;

    Fixation disparity
    a singn of stress
    on binocular vision
    prism stress
    fixation diparity.
    (LD Pickwell)

    This method
    mobile-phone use
    electric book
    and the like.

    for further explanation

    Thank you
    Isamu Ashida

    • jane May 24, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      I’m interested in finding an application or software program that converts horizontal text (ebook,etc.) into vertical text. I’ve primarily researching assitive technology for individuals with visual processing disorders and have yet to find anything. If you have any resources please pass them on. Thanks!

  2. Isamu Ashida December 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Contined from my previous comment.

    Because writing arrangement in my previous comment went not exactly what I intended,
    I here place the same writing trying to make it appear right;

    Fixation disparity
    ..a sign of stress
    ..on binocular vision
    ……prism stress
    ………fixation disparity.


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