iPad Improves Reading Ability of Low-Vision Patients

Brian Hoyle

October 28, 2011

October 28, 2011 (Orlando, Florida) — For many people with low vision that hampers their enjoyment of life, an iPad might be just the ticket, according to research presented here at the American Academy of Ophthalmology 2011 Annual Meeting.

Kakarla Chalam, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, presented the results of a study investigating the capability of the iPad as a reading device.

Although the ability of the iPad to present text in various font sizes has been recognized as being beneficial, the effects of this capability have not been quantified for people with low vision.

The study involved 144 adult patients with best correct visual acuity (BCVA) below 20/200. The subjects read passages from newspaper articles online and from the newsprint versions (which have a typical text size of N8). Those who normally wore glasses to read did so while reading the paper copy. Quality of life was measured using the modified Vision Function Index (VF-14) questionnaire, which measures reading ability.

At the beginning of the study, median BCVA was 20/400 and median comprehensible text size was N30. Using the iPad, 88 of the 144 (88%) patients were able to read text of newsprint size or smaller. The improvement was significant (P < .01). The modified VF-14 scores improved from 2.8 to 4.2 (P < .01).

The basis of the improvement was beyond the scope of the study, but the ability to alter the screen contrast, to position the tablet to avoid glare, and to seek out a reading spot with optimally comfortable lighting might all have been contributors.

For those with low vision, the academic exercise of cause determination might be secondary, Dr. Chalam noted. The demonstration of improved reading ability and a related boost in quality of life might be the only inducements needed for those with low vision.

This research "suggests that the iPad improves reading ability and accessibility for people with low vision and other partial vision impairment," said Ryo Kubota, MD, PhD, chair, CEO, and president of Acucela, a company that develops technologies to improve vision, and the discoverer of the gene that causes glaucoma. "While new tech devices like the iPad are not a substitute for medicines that treat blinding eye diseases, as an ophthalmologist by training, I believe that any technology that improves quality of life for people with visual impairments is important and worth exploring."

Dr. Chalam has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Kubota reports financial ties to Acucela.

American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) 2011 Annual Meeting: Abstract PO557. Presented October 24, 2011.