Low Vision News

For low vision specialists and those who consult them

Monthly Archives: November 2010

The new Kindle (Kindle3) for visually impaired users

As regular readers will know, I have reviewed several electronic readers on this blog to determine whether they are useful for people with low vision (see my reviews of the Kindle 2; Sony Reader; and iPad). Amazon have recently released a new version of the Kindle (Kindle3) and I have bought one for myself (all the other reviews I have done have been on borrowed devices).

A noticable feature about the new Kindle is how small and light it is. Before my Kindle arrived I saw an older man in the waiting area outside our low vision clinic reading one with a Keeler segment (a small high powered spectacle lens, which requires text to be held a couple of inches from the face). He remarked how easy it was to hold the Kindle at 5cm for a prolonged period of time, unlike a heavier book or larger newspaper.

Amazon claim that the screen has higher contrast as well. I was sceptical about this claim but measured the Michelson contrast (in a normal office environment) to be 73% (compared to 60% for the earlier Kindle). Whilst still nowhere near as high as the 99% which the iPad can achieve, this is still an improvement on the previous version. Perhaps more significantly the text can be enlarged further as well: to 5M (5 times the size of newsprint; equivalent to 1.3logMAR or N40). It also incorporates text-to-speech. In my limited experience with the device most new books do not have text-to-speech enabled (a decision which is made by the publisher), but classic books which are out of copyright all seem to have this feature enabled.

So, is the Kindle the best electronic book for people with low vision? I would still say the iPad is better for people with reduced contrast sensitivity or severely reduced visual acuity, but this Kindle is certainly better than its predecessor. Many people will prefer the reduced screen reflection and lower glare of the Kindle’s electronic ink display, and the fact that it is so much lighter than the iPad will be helpful for people that use close working distances to read. Perhaps most significantly, it’s only a quarter of the cost!

Ideally people with low vision considering electronic books should try and borrow each of these devices and should read, at home, for an extended period of time with each one. I imagine both the Kindle and the iPad will be useful to many people with visual impairment.

My “going blind” review

The movie “going blind” has been attracting considerable attention in the low vision research community. I finally got to see this at the Envision meeting in September, and I reviewed it for Optometry Today. My review is reprinted below:

When film director Joseph Lovett visited his ophthalmologist for a glaucoma review, the doctor told him not to think about what would happen if the disease made him go lose his sight. However, he did think about it. The result is “Going blind”, a fascinating 80-minute documentary feature film about visual impairment and blindness.

The film is set against the backdrop of Lovett’s own glaucoma getting worse. In fact he had several surgical procedures including a failed trabeculectomy during the course of making the movie. In the documentary Lovett meets several people with visual impairment and asks them how they cope with their vision loss. These include Jessica Jones, a young artist and photographer who lost sight through retinal detachments. She now teaches art accompanied by her guide dog, Chef. Emmet Tyran features too. He is a child with albinism whose parents encourage him to perform stand-up comedy to as a way of dealing with children who make fun of him in class for having to get so close to the board to see.

However, Pat Williams is the real stand-out character. She knew it was time to seek help from low vision services when her failing sight meant she accidentally added cinnamon rather than paprika to chicken when cooking at for a dinner party. The way in which she discusses the psychological issues surrounding her own vision loss is fascinating. In one amusing scene she is shopping for new shoes. After picking up a pair of some lurid purple boots she asks her brother: “Is this brown?”. When he corrects her she says: “But it will look brown”. He tells her they will always look purple. Her response? “Ooh, nice”.

The film also shows the director attending glaucoma and low vision appointments in Manhattan. Some of the communication skills shown by his ophthalmologist are quite shocking. Even with the presence of a camera crew he seems unwilling to discuss the possible progression of Lovett’s glaucoma, and seems to be far more interested in IOP control than in Lovett’s well being. Speaking as a low vision optometrist myself, I’m pleased to report that the optometrist and low vision specialists who the director visits come across as more caring. Indeed, the film could usefully be shown to people who are sceptical of low vision services to show the benefits low vision rehabilitation can have.

The film is not without faults. With the possible exception of Steve Baskis, an Iraq war veteran blinded in both eyes, most of the characters are extremely upbeat throughout the film. I can see why the director wanted to create an optimistic, ‘feel-good’ movie, but I think it would have been informative to demonstrate that it is normal to be frustrated or angry with vision loss at times. Also, although I saw the film on a big screen at a preview, I think the tone of the film makes it appear more like a (well-made) television documentary than a gripping documentary film such as “Food, Inc” or Michael Moore’s “Sicko”.

Going Blind is an interesting, informative and entertaining movie. Anyone working with visual impairment can learn from watching it, and it would take a heart of stone not to find some elements of the film inspiring.