Many of us enjoy the benefits of having a virtual library on the go with an e-reader, and now, researchers have found that dyslexic readers are able to read more easily, quickly and with better understanding by reading short lines on e-reader devices.

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E-reader devices helped at least a third of dyslexic readers from the study by enabling them to read shorter lines.

The results of the team's study, led by Matthew H. Schneps of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Laboratory for Visual Learning, were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers say that 5-17% of all readers face reading problems as a result of dyslexia. They note that many cases of dyslexia involve an element known as a visual attention deficit, which is an inability to concentrate on specific letters or words within lines of text.

Another feature of dyslexia is visual crowding, which is the inability to recognize letters when they are scattered within the word. By reading short lines on an e-reader, the researchers say dyslexics are able to resolve the issues by "reducing visual distractions within the text."

E-reader benefit for visual attention deficits

In order to test reading comprehension and speed, the team studied 103 dyslexic students from a high school in Boston, MA, which is exclusively for students with language disabilities.

The students completed reading tests on both paper and on small e-reader devices, which were configured with lines of text that were only two or three words long.

E-reader use "significantly improved" both speed and understanding in many of the students, the study shows. Students who had a significant visual attention deficit benefited the most from the e-reader, but the reverse was true for those students who did not have these issues.

The researchers say that previous eye-tracking studies showed that shorter lines help dyslexics read, which suggests that it is the short lines - not necessarily the e-reader device - that created the benefits for some readers.

Matthew Schneps notes that "at least a third of those with dyslexia [that they tested] have these issues with visual attention and are helped by reading on the e-reader."

Reversing 'historically imposed constraints'

According to Schneps, the shorter lines facilitated by the e-readers may help some dyslexic readers to focus on individual words by removing the extra distracting text, which would normally appear on the same line. He told Medical News Today:

"We believe that the e-readers are effective for some people with dyslexia because these people have difficulty directing their visual attention to the portions of words and sentences they look at as they read. It's almost as if they're being distracted by the text in the neighborhood of the words they are trying to look at and read, and our new research will be directed at testing this hypothesis."

Using e-readers for some dyslexics may therefore be an "effective intervention" for those who struggle to read, and the devices may even serve as educational resources or solutions for dyslexics, say the researchers.

They conclude their study by noting that since dyslexia was first described over a century ago, reading methods have changed very little. However, they now have hope in the form of new technology:

"With the widespread adoption of e-readers and other digital technologies for reading, reading methods are rapidly evolving, opening the possibility that alternate methods for reading can perhaps reverse historically imposed constraints that have caused so many to struggle, and make reading accessible to many currently excluded."

The Smithsonian Institution has worked in partnership with the Youth Access Grant program to create an online resource that explains how to configure devices and certify reading specialists.