LUNAR recently helped design the Intel Reader, a device that helps blind, low vision and dyslexic people read print more easily. The design challenge required going deep to understand the needs, desires, and fears of our customers. We spent countless hours with people who don’t typically “read” doing just that. And, when we did, we made a startling realization about dyslexia specifically.
If you’ve ever watched dyslexics read a few things jump out: they move through print slowly, often using a ruler or other aid to keep focused on a line. And hardest to watch is the almost physical wrestling with text. As someone who finds curling up with a book a simple, pleasurable, relaxing act, that struggle hit me in the gut.
We gave one of our subjects an early prototype to use. After fiddling with it for a while, he found a feature that we had designed for those with low vision: he bumped the text size up, and up, and up – until he finally saw only one word at a time. And almost as if by magic the struggle faded and pretty quickly he could follow along with the audio. No furrowed brow, no frustration.
It turns out that one of the things that makes reading a challenge for us is something called “crowding.” As this article points out the current trends of smaller screens are already improving the reading experience for dyslexics. “John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University and chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust (says) ‘when reading text on a small phone, you’re reducing the crowding effect.’” In addition to this “one-word-at-a-time” capability, the Intel Reader goes even further to read the words aloud to people, further improving the experience. The recent headlines about e-books, their readers and the world of publishing may mean that printed text is becoming more accessible to everyone, dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike, contrary to popular belief.