Drawing a line

I guess birds aren’t conscious of flying or fish of swimming. It’s just something they do. From the time I learned to read it’s been something I did naturally, without any conscious effort.

However my loss of peripheral vision changed all that (see posting Second day – Part one). The specialist was not quite right in her prediction that I wouldn’t be able to read, but reading has become far more difficult. It’s now a conscious effort and when I read I’m usually very aware indeed of the process and it being hard.

Then imagine my surprise when yesterday evening I picked up a newspaper and read about halfway through a longish article without thinking for a second about the difficulty of reading. I was simply unaware of experiencing the slightest problem!

Why was this? Well, in ‘About Alexia’ I mentioned that reading difficulty suffered by people with homonymous hemianopia is often helped by some sort of vertical marker, such as a ruler, to show where the lines of text end. And that’s what was happening here. The text was laid out in columns, with vertical lines to the right of each column.

Investigation showed that other articles which had no vertical lines were still very difficult for me to read.

And I noticed another factor. Most of these articles were fill justified – that is, the text lines up vertically on the left-hand and right-hand sides. This usually means breaking words using hyphens. In contrast, the article I read with these used left justification – the text is aligned on the left but not on the right, which means the right margin is ragged, but doesn’t need words to be broken across two lines.

In fact even without word-breaking I find that (contrary to what might have been expected) fill justify is harder to read. Having the vertical line on the right helps, but aligning the ends of the lines doesn’t, perhaps because it causes irregular spacing between words.

Below are two samples I produced to illustrate how the layouts differ. If you click on them you should see a larger image.

Sample 1 – easy for me to read
easytoread

Sample 2 – hard for me to read
hardtoread

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About partialinsight

One evening I had a stroke. Half my sight vanished overnight. Adapting made me grasp how amazing the visual system and brain are. It also taught me to understand disability completely differently and I'm grateful for the lesson.
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