Access to digital text is increasingly widespread, but its impact on low-vision reading is not well understood.
We conducted an online survey of people with low vision to determine what assistive technologies they use for visual reading, their preferred text characteristics, and the time they devote to reading digital and hard-copy text.
One hundred thirty-three low-vision participants completed an online survey. Participants reported the nature and history of their low vision, their usage of different assistive technologies, and time devoted to five visual reading activities.
The three largest diagnostic categories were albinism (n = 36), retinitis pigmentosa (n = 20), and glaucoma (n = 15). Mean self-reported acuity was 0.93 logMAR (range, 0.1 to 1.6 logMAR). Mean age was 46 years (range, 18 to 98 years). Participants reported on percentage time spent reading using vision, audio, or touch (braille). Seventy-five percent of our participants did more than 50% of their reading visually. Across five categories of reading activities—work or education, news, pleasure, spot reading, and social networking—participants reported more time spent on digital reading than hard-copy reading. Eighty-nine percent of our participants used at least one technology from each of our two major categories of assistive technologies (digital content magnifiers and hard-copy content magnifiers) for visual reading.
Despite the growing availability of digital text in audio or braille formats, our findings from an online sample of people with low vision indicate the continuing importance of visual reading. Our participants continue to use technology to access both hard-copy and digital text, but more time is devoted to digital reading. Our findings highlight the need for continued research and development of technology to enhance visual reading accessibility.