Central retinal loss through macular disease markedly reduces the ability to read largely because identification of a word using peripheral vision is negatively influenced by nearby text, a phenomenon termed visual crowding. Here, we present a novel peripheral reading protocol, termed Word Mode, that eliminates crowding by presenting each word in isolation but in a position that mimics its natural position in the line of text being read, with each new word elicited using a self-paced button press. We used a gaze-contingent paradigm to simulate a central scotoma in four normally-sighted observers, and measured oral reading speed for text positioned 7.5° in the inferior field. Compared with reading whole sentences, our crowding-free protocol increased peripheral reading speeds by up to a factor of seven, resulted in significantly fewer reading errors and fixations per sentence, and reduced both the critical print size and the text size required for spot reading by 0.2–0.3 logMAR. We conclude that the level of reading efficiency afforded by the crowding-free reading protocol Word Mode may return reading as a viable activity to many individuals with macular disease.
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Funding: donation from the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust.
- Object vision, Perception, Reading