For People With Low Vision There Is Spotlight Text – A New Way To Read
Spotlight Text is a new e-reading app specifically designed to address the needs of patients with eye disorders. Dr. Howard J. Kaplan, a retina surgeon in the Hudson Valley, started developing the app five years ago. Dr. Kaplan states, “When the first Amazon Kindle came out, a light bulb went off. If books are now digital, you can make the text of the book adapt to the reader instead of forcing the reader to adapt to the text. My patients were extremely frustrated with low vision devices such as desktop readers. Most found them very difficult to use and affordable.” Working with low vision experts at the Lighthouse Guild International, various text presentation methods were evaluated. “The app is based on real visual science and was built with the input of the top low vision specialists in the country, “ says Dr. Kaplan.
The greatest difficulty in creating the app proved to be getting access to e-books. Initially Dr. Kaplan approached the major e-content providers such as Amazon, Google, and Barnes & Noble. All of them considered the low vision market too small to address. During the 5 years, Bookshare, a Silicon Valley nonprofit, began to expand exponentially. Bookshare is dedicated to creating an accessible library for the print disabled.
How Spotlight Text Works, and What Makes it Different
The app is seamlessly tied into the e-book library of Bookshare. The library currently has 300,000+ titles including all current and recent NY Times bestsellers. It has a very extensive collection of textbooks for K-12 children. E-book downloads are free and unlimited for children, and Vets. There is a minimal joining/maintenance fee for adults. All patients that have any visual deficit that prevents them reading standard print are eligible to join. A physician, optometrist, therapist, or even librarian has to certify a patient by checking a single box on the form and signing their name. Bookshare then does the rest by contacting the patient and giving them an account. Bookshare functions due to an exception in US copyright law that allows the free distribution of copyrighted material in formats that are unique for patients with visual disabilities. The books are coded in DAISY, which is a sound file format. The App takes these files and renders them back to written text.
The user interface is designed such that an 80-year-old technophobe or a five-year-old child can easily use it (Apple-like minimalism). The app also synchronizes with Bluetooth Braille readers that convert the text to Braille. It can be connected to the HDMI port of any TV for unlimited screen size (hardwire or wireless through Apple TV). As you will see when you demo the app, text is now dynamic: in both teleprompter and marquee modes the text will move so that ocular movements are minimized. Marquee mode was specifically designed and tested to work for end-stage Retinitis Pigmentosa patients and any patient with only a remaining very narrow central visual field. Using VoiceOver all books are now audible books.
Special iTunes links are created for vision nonprofits. If a patient clicks on those links and purchases the Spotlight Text App, 50% of sales profits are donated to the organization, including the Discovery Eye Foundation or the American Academy of Ophthalmology Foundation. Prior to being placed on the AAO’s website the app was evaluated by its Low Vision Rehabilitation Committee. It is the only app that the American Academy of Ophthalmology has ever endorsed.
Dr. Kaplan hopes to return to the major providers of e-content and persuade them that low vision and blind users are a viable market for them.
“I believe universal accessibility is achievable, but it will take a coordinated and combined effort. Reading is such a vital part of all our lives, with e-books, everyone should be able to enjoy a good book.”
Howard J. Kaplan, MD