Smithsonian Institution researchers have found that E-readers greatly improve the reading abilities of people with dyslexia, a reading disability.
E-readers are special computer tablets that are a popular alternative to books and can be adjusted to meet the needs of dyslexic people. When the e-reader display is set to display a few words on a line, people with dyslexia can read more quickly and easily, and have greater comprehension of the content.
Two common characteristics of dyslexia are:
A visual attention deficit: characterized by an inability to focus on the letters of words or words in a line of text
Visual crowding: an inability to recognize letters when they are within a word
“At least a third of those with dyslexia we tested have these issues with visual attention and are helped by reading on the e-reader,” said Matthew Schneps, lead author of the study and director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. “For those who don’t have these issues, the study showed that the traditional ways of displaying text are better.”
The participants in the study were 103 dyslexic students who attend the Landmark High School in Boston, Massachusetts. The researchers tested for how quickly the students read and their comprehension by comparing their skills when reading a full sheet of text on paper and reading text on small handheld e-reader devices that configured the lines of text into phrases that were two to three words long.
Students greatly improved their reading speed and comprehension when using handheld devices
Students with pronounced visual attention deficit had the most benefit from text on a handheld device compared to text on paper; the reverse was true for people without this issue
The researchers suggest that the handheld devices forces readers to concentrate more deeply
“The high school students we tested at Landmark had the benefit of many years of exceptional remediation, but even so, if they have visual attention deficits they will eventually hit a plateau, and traditional approaches can no longer help,” said Schneps. “Our research showed that the e-readers help these students reach beyond those limits.”