Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Speed of Sigth

The Speed of Sight

Recently I received an email with questions pertaining to the “speed of sight”. There was a time, I believed, as many do, that just making print big enough for me to see would allow me to read much in the same manner I read small print. It doesn’t really work that way.

The Question:
Dorrie, as I understand it, you can see gigantic letters on screen and you use a speaking screen reader. What is the time difference for doing the same task? And, how much longer than for a sighted person? The same questions for Braille? I have never seen this discussed, but it must be significant.

My Answer:
I do magnify print to about 10X and I like a lot of speech with my giant words. At work, on a PC, I use assistive software called ZoomText. It is technically not a screen reader, but a text-to-speech engine. At home, I am now on the iMac, which does have a “screen reader” that I mix with big, big print.

It does take me longer to complete tasks that require reading, simply because, it’s complicated. The way I “see” is not fast or easy. My experience tells me that most reading-related activity takes me two or three times longer than it did pre-retinal degeneration, and reading a page in Newsweek, without a computer, could take me as long as 30 minutes.

I was never a speed-reader to begin with, so it would be unfair for me to completely blame bad eyes. It is certainly a major factor, and another major factor is how well I use the technology.

Reading giant words, without the speech option, would slow me down even more, tire me faster, and make comprehension very difficult.

I cannot speak to the experience of a person who is blind and uses a computer with screen reader and no visual access, or to that of a Braille reader.

Like most things, the speed of sight is very much dependent on the individual.