Vision impairment is a challenge for people who love books. Accommodative technologies are often expensive and cumbersome, and many apps and systems can’t be configured to meet each person’s specific reading needs.
But a new iPad app called Spotlight Text may be the ticket for visually impaired book lovers, young and old alike. It’s used in conjunction with Bookshare, a nonprofit, online library for people with print disabilities. The subscription service has access to 300,000 titles, including New York Times bestsellers and many K-12 textbooks.
A major benefit of Spotlight Text is that it enables the user to choose a reading mode that suits his or her vision. For example, marquee mode, which scrolls text horizontally like a ticker, can work well for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which causes peripheral vision loss, as well as Stargardt disease and age-related macular degeneration, which lead to central vision loss. Teleprompter mode, which scrolls text vertically, may also be a good option for people who have lost central vision. There’s an audio option for people who are completely blind.
Dr. Howard Kaplan, a retinal surgeon in New York’s Hudson Valley who developed the app, says there are two major differences between Spotlight Text and other technologies. One is that the text can be made much bigger. Of the other, he explains, “For people with RP or macular degeneration, one of the most difficult challenges with accommodative reading devices is that their eyes have to move. If you can hold your eyes relatively steady, that’s a lot easier. Patients really like Spotlight Text for that reason.”
Spotlight Text has received kudos from low-vision specialists across the country. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) mandated that its Low Vision Rehabilitation Committee evaluate the app before putting it on Eyesmart, the AAO’s patient website.
Lindsey Teel, who works on Capitol Hill and has lost much of her vision to Stargardt disease, uses Spotlight Text to read books she’s wanted to read for a long time. “I’m currently reading The Phantom Tollbooth and Gone with the Wind,” she says. “I like both the teleprompter mode and the marquee mode, and sometimes it’s nice to just let the system read aloud.”
Dr. Kaplan says Spotlight Text came out of the frustration he felt on behalf of his patients. “They kept telling me they wanted to read books, but they couldn’t,” he explains. “Many docs recommend a CCTV, a desktop reader which you put the book under and move the book as you’re reading. But it’s expensive and difficult to use. The times I’ve used it made me nauseated.”
Spotlight Text costs $29.99, and is available at the iTunes store, with $10 of the proceeds going to one of several vision-related charities. If you click here to purchase the app, the $10 will go to the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
A BookShare subscription, which provides unlimited access to its titles for people with print reading disabilities, is $50 for the first year and $25 for subsequent years. There is also a one-time $25 set-up fee. The service is free for students in the United States.