Far from ruining your eyes, digital screens can actually help people read better, especially those with bad vision.
Researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey found that people with moderate vision loss could improve their reading speed when reading on a tablet versus on paper. And a backlit screen, such as the iPad’s, provided even more benefit than an E Ink screen, as on the original Kindle.
Moderate vision loss can come from diseases such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, both of which damage the light-sensitive cells of the retina, in the back of the eye. The result is fuzzy central vision, which makes near vision — what we use for reading — difficult.
The study tested how quickly people with vision impairment read a book in print, on an original Kindle (no backlight) and on an iPad 2. People read the printed book at an average rate of 187 wpm. On the Kindle, people sped up to 196 wpm at 12-point font. With the Kindle app on an iPad 2 set at 12-point font, people hit 224 wpm. Finally, increasing the iPad’s font size to 18 points allowed people to read slightly faster at 229 wpm.
The researchers said they believe the backlight helps overcome loss of contrast sensitivity — being able to see objects distinctly from their background and making out shades of gray. The backlit tablets create high contrast between the text and the background, and they shine light directly into the eye, which also helps people with macular degeneration.
Those who had the most problems seeing (vision of 20/40 or worse) reported the best increases in reading rate. On the other hand, those who had better vision (between 20/20 and 20/40) said they preferred reading on newspapers and other printed pages to reading on an electronic device, but even those readers showed some increase in their reading rate on the iPad.
Dr. Daniel Roth, the lead researcher, said that, although his team didn’t test other backlit tablets, it’s likely that Android tablets and other devices similar to the iPad would also help people with reading speed.