Previous studies of tactile acuity on the fingertip using passive touch have demonstrated an age-related decline in spatial resolution for both sighted and blind subjects. We have re-examined this age dependence with two newly designed tactile-acuity charts requiring active exploration of the test symbols. One chart used dot patterns similar to Braille and the other used embossed Landolt rings. Groups of blind Braille readers and sighted subjects, ranging in age from 12 to 85 years, were tested in two experiments. We replicated previous findings for sighted subjects by showing an age related decrease in tactile acuity by nearly 1% per year. Surprisingly, the blind subjects retained high acuity into old age showing no age-related decline. For the blind subjects, tactile acuity did not correlate with braille reading speed, the amount of daily reading, or the age at which braille was learned. We conclude that when measured with active touch, blind subjects retain high tactile acuity into old age, unlike their aging sighted peers. We propose that blind people's use of active touch in daily activities, not specifically Braille reading, results in preservation of tactile acuity across the lifespan.
touch; tactile perception; tactile acuity; aging; blindness; impaired vision
There is a need for adaptive technology to enhance indoor wayfinding by visually-impaired people. To address this need, we have developed and tested a Digital Sign System. The hardware and software consist of digitally-encoded signs widely distributed throughout a building, a handheld sign-reader based on an infrared camera, image-processing software, and a talking digital map running on a mobile device. Four groups of subjects—blind, low vision, blindfolded sighted, and normally sighted controls—were evaluated on three navigation tasks. The results demonstrate that the technology can be used reliably in retrieving information from the signs during active mobility, in finding nearby points of interest, and following routes in a building from a starting location to a destination. The visually impaired subjects accurately and independently completed the navigation tasks, but took substantially longer than normally sighted controls. This fully functional prototype system demonstrates the feasibility of technology enabling independent indoor navigation by people with visual impairment.
This study investigated the interaction between remembered landmark and path integration strategies for estimating current location when walking in an environment without vision. We asked whether observers navigating without vision only rely on path integration information to judge their location, or whether remembered landmarks also influence judgments. Participants estimated their location in a hallway after viewing a target (remembered landmark cue) and then walking blindfolded to the same or a conflicting location (path integration cue). We found that participants averaged remembered landmark and path integration information when they judged that both sources provided congruent information about location, which resulted in more precise estimates compared to estimates made with only path integration. In conclusion, humans integrate remembered landmarks and path integration in a gated fashion, dependent on the congruency of the information. Humans can flexibly combine information about remembered landmarks with path integration cues while navigating without visual information.
Detecting and recognizing steps and ramps is an important component of the visual accessibility of public spaces for people with impaired vision. The present study, which is part of a larger program of research on visual accessibility, investigated the impact of two factors that may facilitate the recognition of steps and ramps during low-acuity viewing. Visual texture on the ground plane is an environmental factor that improves judgments of surface distance and slant. Locomotion (walking) is common during observations of a layout, and may generate visual motion cues that enhance the recognition of steps and ramps.
In two experiments, normally sighted subjects viewed the targets monocularly through blur goggles that reduced acuity to either approx. 20/150 Snellen (mild blur) or 20/880 (severe blur). The subjects judged whether a step, ramp or neither was present ahead on a sidewalk. In the texture experiment, subjects viewed steps and ramps on a surface with a coarse black-and-white checkerboard pattern. In the locomotion experiment, subjects walked along the sidewalk toward the target before making judgments.
Surprisingly, performance was lower with the textured surface than with a uniform surface, perhaps because the texture masked visual cues necessary for target recognition. Subjects performed better in walking trials than in stationary trials, possibly because they were able to take advantage of visual cues that were only present during motion.
We conclude that under conditions of simulated low acuity, large, high-contrast texture elements can hinder the recognition of steps and ramps while locomotion enhances recognition.
visual accessibility; texture; locomotion; low vision; low acuity; mobility; visual recognition; steps; ramps
The size and shape of printed symbols determine the legibility of text. In this paper we focus on print size because of its crucial role in understanding reading performance and its significance in the history and contemporary practice of typography. We present evidence supporting the hypothesis that the distribution of print sizes in historical and contemporary publications falls within the psychophysically defined range of fluent print size — the range over which text can be read at maximum speed. The fluent range extends over a factor of 10 in angular print size (x-height) from approximately 0.2° to 2°. Assuming a standard reading distance of 40 cm (16 inches), the corresponding physical x-heights are 1.4 mm (4 points) and 14 mm (40 points). We provide new data on the distributions of print sizes in published books and newspapers and in type founders' specimens, and consider factors influencing these distributions. We discuss theoretical concepts from vision science concerning visual size coding that help inform our understanding of historical and modern typographical practices. While economic, social, technological and artistic factors influence type design and selection, we conclude that properties of human visual processing play a dominant role in constraining the distribution of print sizes in common use.
critical print size; type size; x-height; reading speed
Detection and recognition of ramps and steps are important for the safe mobility of people with low vision. Our primary goal was to assess the impact of viewing conditions and environmental factors on the recognition of these targets by people with low vision. A secondary goal was to determine if results from our previous studies of normally sighted subjects, wearing acuity-reducing goggles, would generalize to low vision.
Sixteen subjects with heterogeneous forms of low vision participated—acuities from approximately 20/200 to 20/2000. They viewed a sidewalk interrupted by one of five targets: a single step up or down, a ramp up or down, or a flat continuation of the sidewalk. Subjects reported which of the five targets was shown, and percent correct was computed. The effects of viewing distance, target–background contrast, lighting arrangement, and subject locomotion were investigated. Performance was compared with a group of normally sighted subjects who viewed the targets through acuity-reducing goggles.
Recognition performance was significantly better at shorter distances and after locomotion (compared with purely stationary viewing). The effects of lighting arrangement and target–background contrast were weaker than hypothesized. Visibility of the targets varied, with the step up being more visible than the step down.
The empirical results provide insight into factors affecting the visibility of ramps and steps for people with low vision. The effects of distance, target type, and locomotion were qualitatively similar for low vision and normal vision with artificial acuity reduction. However, the effects of lighting arrangement and background contrast were only significant for subjects with normal vision.
Recognition of ramps and steps by people with low vision was investigated. Performance was enhanced by locomotion, but it decreased with increasing distance and with lower acuity.
Reading speed in normal peripheral vision is slow but can be increased through training on a letter-recognition task. The aim of the present study is to investigate the sensory and cognitive factors responsible for this improvement. The visual span is hypothesized to be a sensory bottleneck limiting reading speed. Three sensory factors—letter acuity, crowding, and mislocations (errors in the spatial order of letters)—may limit the size of the visual span. Reading speed is also influenced by cognitive factors including the utilization of information from sentence context. We conducted a perceptual training experiment to investigate the roles of these factors. Training consisted of four daily sessions of trigram letter-recognition trials at 10° in the lower visual field. Subjects' visual-span profiles and reading speeds were measured in pre- and posttests. Effects of the three sensory factors were isolated through a decomposition analysis of the visual span profiles. The impact of sentence context was indexed by context gain, the ratio of reading speeds for ordered and unordered text. Following training, visual spans increased in size by 5.4 bits of information transmitted, and reading speeds increased by 45%. Training induced a substantial reduction in the magnitude of crowding (4.8 bits) and a smaller reduction for mislocations (0.7 bits), but no change in letter acuity or context gain. These results indicate that the basis of the training-related improvement in reading speed is a large reduction in the interfering effect of crowding and a small reduction of mislocation errors.
reading; peripheral vision; visual span; crowding; context gain
Blur is one of many visual factors that can limit reading in both normal and low vision. Legge et al. [Legge, G. E., Pelli, D. G., Rubin, G. S., & Schleske, M. M. (1985). Psychophysics of reading. I. Normal vision. Vision Research, 25, 239–252.] measured reading speed for text that was low-pass filtered with a range of cutoff spatial frequencies. Above 2 cycles per letter (CPL) reading speed was constant at its maximum level, but decreased rapidly for lower cutoff frequencies. It remains unknown why the critical cutoff for reading speed is near 2 CPL. The goal of the current study was to ask whether the spatial-frequency requirement for rapid reading is related to the effects of cutoff frequency on letter recognition and the size of the visual span. Visual span profiles were measured by asking subjects to recognize letters in trigrams (random strings of three letters) flashed for 150 ms at varying letter positions left and right of the fixation point. Reading speed was measured with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). The size of the visual span and reading speed were measured for low-pass filtered stimuli with cutoff frequencies from 0.8 to 8 CPL. Low-pass letter recognition data, obtained under similar testing conditions, were available from our previous study (Kwon & Legge, 2011). We found that the spatial-frequency requirement for reading is very similar to the spatial-frequency requirements for the size of the visual span and single letter recognition. The critical cutoff frequencies for reading speed, the size of the visual span and a contrast-invariant measure of letter recognition were all near 1.4 CPL, which is lower than the previous estimate of 2 CPL for reading speed. Although correlational in nature, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that the size of the visual span is closely linked to reading speed.
Reading; Letter recognition; Spatial-frequency bandwidth; Visual span; Peripheral vision; Low vision; Blur
Enhancing reading ability in peripheral vision is important for the rehabilitation of people with central-visual-field loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Previous research has shown that perceptual learning, based on a trigram letter-recognition task, improved peripheral reading speed among normally-sighted young adults (Chung, Legge & Cheung, 2004). Here we ask whether the same happens in older adults in an age range more typical of the onset of AMD. Eighteen normally-sighted subjects, aged 55 to 76 years, were randomly assigned to training or control groups. Visual-span profiles (plots of letter-recognition accuracy as a function of horizontal letter position) and RSVP reading speeds were measured at 10° above and below fixation during pre- and post-tests for all subjects. Training consisted of repeated measurements of visual-span profiles at 10° below fixation, in 4 daily sessions. The control subjects did not receive any training. Perceptual learning enlarged the visual spans in both trained (lower) and untrained (upper) visual fields. Reading speed improved in the trained field by 60% when the trained print size was used. The training benefits for these older subjects were weaker than the training benefits for young adults found by Chung et al. Despite the weaker training benefits, perceptual learning remains a potential option for low-vision reading rehabilitation among older adults.
The visual accessibility of a space refers to the effectiveness with which vision can be used to travel safely through the space. For people with low vision, the detection of steps and ramps is an important component of visual accessibility. We used ramps and steps as visual targets to examine the interacting effects of lighting, object geometry, contrast, viewing distance and spatial resolution. Wooden staging was used to construct a sidewalk with transitions to ramps or steps. 48 normally sighted subjects viewed the sidewalk monocularly through acuity-reducing goggles, and made recognition judgments about the presence of the ramps or steps. The effects of variation in lighting were milder than expected. Performance declined for the largest viewing distance, but exhibited a surprising reversal for nearer viewing. Of relevance to pedestrian safety, the step up was more visible than the step down. We developed a probabilistic cue model to explain the pattern of target confusions. Cues determined by discontinuities in the edge contours of the sidewalk at the transition to the targets were vulnerable to changes in viewing conditions. Cues associated with the height in the picture plane of the targets were more robust.
visual accessibility; low vision; mobility; visual acuity; visual contrast; visual recognition; steps; ramps
Previous research has shown that perceptual training in peripheral vision, using a letter-recognition task, increases reading speed and letter recognition (Chung, Legge, & Cheung, 2004). We tested the hypothesis that enhanced deployment of spatial attention to peripheral vision explains this training effect. Subjects were pre- and post-tested with 3 tasks at 10° above and below fixation—RSVP reading speed, trigram letter recognition (used to construct visual-span profiles), and deployment of spatial attention (measured as the benefit of a pre-cue for target position in a lexical-decision task). Groups of five normally sighted young adults received 4 days of trigram letter-recognition training in upper or lower visual fields, or central vision. A control group received no training. Our measure of deployment of spatial attention revealed visual-field anisotropies; better deployment of attention in the lower field than the upper, and in the lower-right quadrant compared with the other three quadrants. All subject groups exhibited slight improvement in deployment of spatial attention to peripheral vision in the post-test, but this improvement was not correlated with training-related increases in reading speed and the size of visual-span profiles. Our results indicate that improved deployment of spatial attention to peripheral vision does not account for improved reading speed and letter recognition in peripheral vision.
reading; attention; perceptual learning; peripheral vision; visual span
Reading speed matters in most real-world contexts, and it is a robust and easy aspect of reading to measure. Theories of reading should account for speed.
Kwon and Legge (2011) found that high levels of letter recognition accuracy are possible even when letters are severely low-pass filtered (0.9 cycles per letter). How is letter recognition possible with such severe reduction in the spatial resolution of stimulus letters? Clues may come from understanding the possible interaction between contrast and spatial resolution in letter recognition. Here, we asked what the effect is on the contrast threshold for detecting and recognizing letters as the spatial-frequency cutoff of letters is reduced (in cycles per letter). We measured contrast thresholds of seven normally sighted subjects for detecting and recognizing single letters of the English alphabet. The letters were low-pass filtered with several cutoff frequencies (0.9–3.5 cycles per letter, including unfiltered letters). We found that differences in contrast thresholds between detection and recognition increased substantially with decreasing cutoff frequency. We also incorporated the human contrast sensitivity function into an ideal observer model and found qualitatively good agreement between the pattern of performance for the model and our human subjects. Our findings show that the human visual system requires higher contrast for letter recognition when spatial resolution is severely limited. Good agreement between the model and human subjects shows that the greater contrast requirement for recognizing low-pass letters is due to a reduction in the information content of the letters rather than a change in human visual processing. The reduction in stimulus information may be due to increasing stimulus similarity associated with a reduction in spatial-frequency cutoff.
letter recognition; spatial resolution; contrast; spatial-frequency bandwidth; peripheral vision; critical bandwidth; ideal observer; contrast sensitivity function; letter similarity
The visual span for reading is the number of letters, arranged horizontally as in text, that can be recognized reliably without moving the eyes. The visual-span hypothesis states that the size of the visual span is an important factor that limits reading speed. From this hypothesis, we predict that changes in reading speed as a function of character size or contrast are determined by corresponding changes in the size of the visual span. We tested this prediction in two experiments in which we measured the size of the visual span and reading speed on groups of five subjects as a function of either character size or character contrast. We used a “trigram method” for characterizing the visual span as a profile of letter-recognition accuracy as a function of distance left and right of the midline (G. E. Legge, J. S. Mansfield, & S. T. L. Chung, 2001). The area under this profile was taken as an operational measure of the size of the visual span. Reading speed was measured with the Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) method. We found that the size of the visual span and reading speed showed the same qualitative dependence on character size and contrast, reached maximum values at the same critical points, and exhibited high correlations at the level of individual subjects. Additional analysis of data from four studies provides evidence for an invariant relationship between the size of the visual span and RSVP reading speed; an increase in the visual span by one letter is associated with a 39% increase in reading speed. Our results confirm the visual-span hypothesis and provide a theoretical framework for understanding the impact of stimulus attributes, such as contrast and character size, on reading speed. Evidence for the visual span as a determinant of reading speed implies the existence of a bottom–up, sensory limitation on reading, distinct from attentional, motor, or linguistic influences.
vision; contrast; character size; visual span; low vision; reading; reading speed
It is well known that object recognition requires spatial frequencies exceeding some critical cutoff value. People with central scotomas who rely on peripheral vision have substantial difficulty with reading and face recognition. Deficiencies of pattern recognition in peripheral vision, might result in higher cutoff requirements, and may contribute to the functional problems of people with central-field loss. Here we asked about differences in spatial-cutoff requirements in central and peripheral vision for letter and face recognition.
The stimuli were the 26 letters of the English alphabet and 26 celebrity faces. Each image was blurred using a low-pass filter in the spatial frequency domain. Critical cutoffs (defined as the minimum low-pass filter cutoff yielding 80% accuracy) were obtained by measuring recognition accuracy as a function of cutoff (in cycles per object).
Our data showed that critical cutoffs increased from central to peripheral vision by 20% for letter recognition and by 50% for face recognition. We asked whether these differences could be accounted for by central/peripheral differences in the contrast sensitivity function (CSF). We addressed this question by implementing an ideal-observer model which incorporates empirical CSF measurements and tested the model on letter and face recognition. The success of the model indicates that central/peripheral differences in the cutoff requirements for letter and face recognition can be accounted for by the information content of the stimulus limited by the shape of the human CSF, combined with a source of internal noise and followed by an optimal decision rule.
Pattern recognition; Peripheral vision; Letters; Faces; Spatial-frequency bandwidth; Ideal observer
This study investigated navigation with route instructions generated by digital-map software and synthetic speech. Participants, either visually impaired or sighted wearing blind folds, successfully located rooms in an unfamiliar building. Users with visual impairment demonstrated better route-finding performance when the technology provided distance information in number of steps rather than walking time or number of feet.
This fMRI study shows that there is cortical reorganization of the early visual cortex in both age-related and juvenile-onset macular degeneration, but it is incomplete and task dependent.
Activity in regions of the visual cortex corresponding to central scotomas in subjects with macular degeneration (MD) is considered evidence for functional reorganization in the brain. Three unresolved issues related to cortical activity in subjects with MD were addressed: Is the cortical response to stimuli presented to the preferred retinal locus (PRL) different from other retinal loci at the same eccentricity? What effect does the role of age of onset and etiology of MD have on cortical responses? How do functional responses in an MD subject's visual cortex vary for task and stimulus conditions?
Eight MD subjects—four with age-related onset (AMD) and four with juvenile onset (JMD)—and two age-matched normal vision controls, participated in three testing conditions while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). First, subjects viewed a small stimulus presented at the PRL compared with a non-PRL control location to investigate the role of the PRL. Second, they viewed a full-field flickering checkerboard compared with a small stimulus in the original fovea to investigate brain activation with passive viewing. Third, they performed a one-back task with scene images to investigate brain activation with active viewing.
A small stimulus at the PRL generated more extensive cortical activation than at a non-PRL location, but neither yielded activation in the foveal cortical projection. Both passive and active viewing of full-field stimuli left a silent zone at the posterior pole of the occipital cortex, implying a lack of complete cortical reorganization. The silent zone was smaller in the task requiring active viewing compared with the task requiring passive viewing, especially in JMD subjects.
The PRL for MD subjects has more extensive cortical representation than a retinal region with matched eccentricity. There is evidence for incomplete functional reorganization of early visual cortex in both JMD and AMD. Functional reorganization is more prominent in JMD. Feedback signals, possibly associated with attention, play an important role in the reorganization.
People with central-field loss must use peripheral vision for reading. Previous studies have shown that reading performance in peripheral vision can improve with extensive practice on a trigram letter-recognition task. The present study compared training on this task with training on two other character-based tasks (lexical decision and RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) reading) which might plausibly produce more improvement in peripheral reading speed. Twenty-eight normally sighted young adults were trained at 10° in the lower visual field in a pre/post design. All three training methods produced significant improvements in reading speed, with average gains of 39% for lexical-decision, 54% for trigram letter-recognition, and 72% for RSVP training. Although the RSVP training was most effective, the lexical-decision task has the advantage of easy self administration making it more practical for home-based training.
visual span; reading speed; perceptual learning; peripheral vision; visual training
There are three formats for arranging English text for vertical reading—upright letters arranged vertically (marquee), and horizontal text rotated 90° clockwise or counterclockwise. Previous research has shown that reading is slower for all three vertical formats than for horizontal text, with marquee being slowest. It has been proposed that the size of the visual span—the number of letters recognized with high accuracy without moving the eyes—is a visual factor limiting reading speed. We predicted that reduced visual-span size would be correlated with the slower reading for the three vertical formats. We tested this prediction with uppercase and lowercase letters. Reading performance was measured using two presentation methods: RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) and flashcard (a block of text on four lines). On average, reading speed for horizontal text was 139% faster than marquee text and 81% faster than the rotated texts. Size of the visual span was highly correlated with changes in reading speed for both lowercase and uppercase letters and for both RSVP and flashcard reading. Our results are consistent with the view that slower reading of vertical text is due to a decrease in the size of the visual span for vertical reading.
Visual span; Letter recognition; Reading speed; Vertical reading
Accurate reading of words and text relies on reliable identification of letters in left to right order. Previous studies have shown that people often make letter-reversal errors when identifying strings of letters away from fixation. These errors contribute to a decline in letter identification performance away from fixation. This study tests the hypothesis that these errors are due to decreased precision (increased position noise) in the coding of letter position in the periphery. To test our hypothesis, we measured observers' performance for identifying pairs of adjacent letters presented within 8 letter positions left and right of fixation. The task was to name the two letters of each pair, from left to right. Responses were scored in two ways for each letter position: (1) letters were identified correctly and in the correct position, and (2) letters were identified correctly but in the wrong position. The ratio of these two scores, when subtracted from 1, gives the empirical rate of mislocation errors. Our primary finding shows that the coding of letter position becomes increasingly imprecise with distance from fixation. A model in which the encoded position of each letter is independent and Gaussian distributed, and in which the spread of the distribution governs the precision of localizing the letter accounts for the empirical rate of mislocation errors. We also found that precision of letter position coding scales with letter size but the precision does not improve with the use of a pre-cue.
Local signs; letter reversals; letter mislocations; crowding; letter identification; pattern vision
Although previous studies have shown that Braille reading and other tactile-discrimination tasks activate the visual cortex of blind and sighted people [1–5], it is not known whether this kind of cross-modal reorganization is influenced by retinotopic organization. We have addressed this question by studying S, a visually impaired adult with the rare ability to read print visually and Braille by touch. S had normal visual development until age six years, and thereafter severe acuity reduction due to corneal opacification, but no evidence of visual-field loss. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that, in S’s early visual areas, tactile information processing activated what would be the foveal representation for normally-sighted individuals, and visual information processing activated what would be the peripheral representation. Control experiments showed that this activation pattern was not due to visual imagery. S’s high-level visual areas which correspond to shape- and object-selective areas in normally-sighted individuals were activated by both visual and tactile stimuli. The retinotopically specific reorganization in early visual areas suggests an efficient redistribution of neural resources in the visual cortex.
The variability of the length and frequency of steps was measured in sighted and visually impaired walkers at three different paces. The variability was low, especially at the preferred pace, and similar for both groups. A model incorporating step counts and step frequency provides good estimates of the distance traveled. Applications to wayfinding technology are discussed.
How does prolonged reduction in retinal-image contrast affect visual-contrast coding? Recent evidence indicates that some forms of long-term visual deprivation result in compensatory perceptual and neural changes in the adult visual pathway. It has not been established whether changes due to contrast adaptation are best characterized as “contrast gain” or “response gain.” We present a theoretical rationale for predicting that adaptation to long-term contrast reduction should result in response gain. To test this hypothesis, normally sighted subjects adapted for four hours by viewing their environment through contrast-reducing goggles. During the adaptation period, the subjects went about their usual daily activities. Subjects' contrast-discrimination thresholds and fMRI BOLD responses in cortical areas V1 and V2 were obtained before and after adaptation. Following adaptation, we observed a significant decrease in contrast-discrimination thresholds, and significant increase in BOLD responses in V1 and V2. The observed interocular transfer of the adaptation effect suggests that the adaptation has a cortical origin. These results reveal a new kind of adaptability of the adult visual cortex, an adjustment in the gain of the contrast-response in the presence of a reduced range of stimulus contrasts, which is consistent with a response-gain mechanism. The adaptation appears to be compensatory, such that the precision of contrast coding is improved for low retinal-image contrasts.
contrast adaptation; contrast sensitivity; plasticity; visual cortex; contrast discrimination; fMRI; contrast gain; response gain; long-term visual deprivation
Previous studies suggest that humans rely on geometric visual information (hallway structure) rather than non-geometric visual information (e.g., doors, signs and lighting) for acquiring cognitive maps of novel indoor layouts. This study asked whether visual impairment and age affect reliance on non-geometric visual information for layout learning. We tested three groups of participants—younger (< 50 years) normally sighted, older (50–70 years) normally sighted, and low vision (people with heterogeneous forms of visual impairment ranging in age from 18–67). Participants learned target locations in building layouts using four presentation modes: a desktop virtual environment (VE) displaying only geometric cues (Sparse VE), a VE displaying both geometric and non-geometric cues (Photorealistic VE), a Map, and a Real building. Layout knowledge was assessed by map drawing and by asking participants to walk to specified targets in the real space. Results indicate that low-vision and older normally-sighted participants relied on additional non-geometric information to accurately learn layouts. In conclusion, visual impairment and age may result in reduced perceptual and/or memory processing that makes it difficult to learn layouts without non-geometric visual information.
spatial navigation; wayfinding; visual impairment; low vision; aging; virtual environments; geometric visual information; cognitive maps; landmarks; environmental learning