For dyslexics, books are much easier to read on its screen

I was hopeless at school, messy and terrible at spelling. And although the term dyslexia was not something I came across until much later in life, when I did I understood immediately that I had a number of its symptoms. My writing often had a jumbled logic. The advent of computers, of course, brought spell-checkers, but even so my word blindness can carry such conviction that I sometimes find myself staring incredulously at the red line underneath words, before finally realising that “during” does not begin with a “J”.

I’m reasonably well read but I read slowly; books have always been a struggle. I read one sentence, which sparks a thought, maybe causing my eyes to flicker, and I lose my place.

Recently, at the age of 57, I got an iPhone. Like many, I spent the first few hours loading up apps, including a Classics book app. Some weeks later, while mending a client’s computer, waiting for the blue line to progress slowly across the screen, I began reading. The first thing I noticed was that, while familiar with many of the books on the app, having seen a film version or been read them as a child, I had not myself read a single one. Books which would have been part of many a youthful literary diet had passed me by. Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer – I hadn’t read any of them (but I have now).

The first title I selected was The Count of Monte Cristo. I raced through this on my iPhone in just over a week, my wife asking why I was continually playing with my iPhone. When I’d finished I enjoyed the story so much that I went to buy a copy for a friend. In the bookshop I was amazed. It was more than 1,000 pages! Had I been presented with the book in this form I would never have read it. It would have been too much like climbing a mountain.

So why I had found it easier to read from my iPhone? First, an ordinary page of text is split into about four pages. The spacing seems generous and because of this I don’t get lost on the page. Second, the handset’s brightness makes it easier to take in words. “Many dyslexics have problems with ‘crowding’, where they’re distracted by the words surrounding the word they’re trying to read,” says John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University and chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust. “When reading text on a small phone, you’re reducing the crowding effect.”

I was so impressed that I contacted the Dyslexia Society, where Sue Flohr, herself dyslexic, recounted how her iPhone had changed her life. She told me that many others share my experience reading books and the society is in talks with the government over making school textbooks available as eBooks. Flohr said that her iPhone has not only brought greater organisation to her life, it has greatly improved her sense of self-esteem. I share this sense and now see that when I proudly show off my iPhone to others it is not just a new bit of technology, but the centrepoint of my newly ordered life. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds