E-Readers Can Keep You Reading Despite Vision Loss

Many seniors appear to have given up one of life’s great pleasures.

Often the surrender is years in the making, perhaps easing the blow a bit or making it a little easier to absorb—but in many cases, it’s a surrender that really doesn’t have to take place.

Reading with vision loss

Though Americans aren’t always known as readers, the fact is, many are. And, while many people balk at paying full prices for the latest bestsellers, a visit to the local library usually confirms there are plenty of avid readers of all ages out there.

For most people, it gets a little harder to read as the years pass. Many people start to notice a difference once they reach their 40s or 50s. That’s when many Americans find the print in books, magazines, and newspapers seems to be getting a little smaller. Often, a pair of reading glasses will remedy the problem. But a year or two later, when the print seems to have shrunk a little more, off they go to buy a new, slightly stronger pair of reading specs … then, another year or two later, another, stronger pair … then another … and so on.

Either before or after the discovery of the magnifying glass as a reading instrument, many people gravitate toward large-print editions of their favorite reading materials—or at least what they can find of their favorite reading materials in large-print editions. Some people turn to audio books. And, sadly, others …

Others simply decide it’s too much trouble to continue reading the books they love.

But the fact is, continuing to read books despite vision loss isn’t nearly as much trouble as a lot of people imagine. For almost anyone with an open mind and a don’t-give-up attitude, there is absolutely no reason reading shouldn’t remain just as valued an activity as it’s always been.

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The don’t-give-up part probably speaks for itself

It takes a feisty individual to wage a successful battle against vision loss—and a lot of people definitely are feisty, especially after decades of standing up for their children and leading them through troubled waters. We can only imagine how many Americans who lived through the Depression – World War Two – Korean War years don’t even know what it means to give up.

But to continue enjoying books even after vision declines depends just as much on keeping the mind open … embracing change … and not being afraid to look at an old thing a new way.

In this instance, that means no longer viewing a book as most of us have viewed it since childhood. Often, the key to continuing to enjoy books is to realize books aren’t only collections of pages and covers and ink.

And books don’t have to sit on a shelf.

Nowadays, a whole library’s worth of books can be accessed via a small electronic tablet device—and many people whose vision remains strong marvel at the convenience of these devices, called e-readers.

While e-readers can be a great convenience to people who have not experienced vision loss, to many Americans with declining vision they are an absolute godsend.

How Can E-Readers Make a Difference?

Goodness … where to start. To some people, an e-reader simply represents the difference between being able to get through a book in a relatively trouble-free manner and not being able to get through it at all.

The public Oregon Health and Science University’s Casey Eye Institute lists some considerations that make e-readers ideal for many people suffering from macular degeneration and other conditions affecting vision:

  • ABILITY TO ENLARGE FONT SIZE.  E-readers allow you to enlarge the font size of any content you download. According to John Boyer, O.D., Director of the Casey Eye Institute’s Vision Rehabilitation Center, “This can make a big difference in the quality of reading and may make a magnifier unnecessary. Even if you still need a magnifier with an e-reader, you can use a lower power than you would use for printed books.”
  • SCREEN SIZE. E-readers come in various screen sizes, with smaller screens having smaller menus and displaying less text
  • AUDIO CAPABILITY.  E-readers allow you to download audio books. With the addition of text-to-speech software, it is possible to have the material read to you through speakers in the device or headphones.  The text-to-speech feature allows you to follow along or just listen while the material is read aloud.
  • LIGHT AND CONTRAST.  Many e-readers have built-in lighting, which adds contrast that is crucial for readers with macular degeneration.
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Four Big Players in the E-Reader Market

The intent here is not to suggest any particular e-reader is superior to others. There are many sources to consult when it comes time to decide which device is best. For now, let’s simply look at four of the leading players in the e-reader market.

  1. Apple iPad:  Perhaps you already have one of these versatile devices that allow you to browse the Internet, take photos, play music, and more. There are thousands upon thousands of applications for the iPad, and an ever-growing number of people are swearing by this device. For people who want to read via their iPads, there are thousands of free books available, and many thousands more that are downloadable from the iBookstore. If you are an iPad user, you may also be interested in the list of iPad apps for low vision found on the website of the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center.
  2. Barnes and Noble Nook:  The Barnes and Noble website boasts four million books for Nook users, with a million of those available for free. For readers, Nook devices seem to share most of the capabilities of iPad devices. As with iPad readers, costs are reasonable and the gadgetry seems ideal for people determined to continue enjoying books despite vision loss.
  3. Kindle: Amazon’s Kindle, like its competitors, can be surprisingly economical, and in its various forms has proven to be a convenient device for the general population and a great boost for people who might otherwise struggle with reading due to vision loss. As with some of Kindle’s competitors, many users love features that give the effect of reading a real page of print, though with all the innovative assists that make reading that “real” page a lot easier for the reader.
  4. Sony Reader:  The Sony Reader is also available in a variety of models designed for convenience and ease of reading. These devices are noted for their resolution, and a large number of darkness settings make it easy to find the ideal contrast for any set of eyes. Sony’s library is not as extensive as its main competitors’, but its e-readers have many of the same visual and audio features that make it easier to continue enjoying books.

Again, the goal here is not to direct anyone toward any particular device over another. It is simply to suggest that, with a feisty attitude, an open mind, and a miraculous gadget, reading books can be a pleasure again for some people who thought their days of reading for fun were long gone.

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