Color in the treatment of visual stress. Home page

Colored overlays have been shown to reduce visual stress and increase reading speed on the Rate of Reading Test by more than 25% in 5% of schoolchildren aged 7-8. The increase occurs only when a sufficient number of colors is available from which to choose the optimum, which differs from one individual to another. A variety of controlled trials have shown that placebo effects are not a sufficient explanation for the increase in reading speed. Colored glasses have been shown to reduce headaches in open trials and also in two small-scale trials using a double-masked protocol. The color optimal for overlays differs from that optimal in lenses. Imaging studies have shown that it is only when the shade is precise that it is likely to have a beneficial clinical effect. The symptoms of visual stress (visual discomfort and perceptual distortions) and the benefit from color are sometimes collectively referred to as 'visual stress' (preferred) or 'Meares-Irlen Syndrome', and sometimes as 'Irlen Syndrome' (USA), or (formerly) 'scotopic sensitivity syndrome', a misnomer.

http://www.essex.ac.uk/psychology/overlays/looking_at_overlays.jpgHelen Irlen was one of the first to promote the beneficial effects of colored filters. Her approach remains controversial. The research work described in these pages follows from studies conducted originally in collaboration with members of the Irlen Institute, but subsequently quite independently of this organisation. A recent summary of the scientific literature is available.

Unlike some other recent systems of overlays, the "Intuitive Overlays" offer a sufficient range of colors and have been shown to increase reading speed. They can be obtained from ioo sales. Cerium Visual Technologies sell similar overlays and Crossbow Education now sell an A4 pack with a sufficient range of overlay colors. Suitable techniques for testing with overlays are given in the book "Reading through Color"  (Wiley 2003). You can obtain a complete set of Wilkins' publications , and a selection of other recent relevant papers. There is a set of frequently asked questions (with http://www.essex.ac.uk/psychology/overlays/point_overlay.jpganswers!).You can also obtain a video entitled "Reading with Color"  in which children talk about their experiences with overlays, and a test with overlays is demonstrated.

There is a set of forms  containing suggestions for teachers in high schools and colleges. There is a page of information for optometrists. The optometrists who use the Intuitive Colorimeter are listed on the Cerium Visual Technologies website and there is a list of those who have undertaken professional development and subscribed to a Code of Conduct on the site of the Society for Coloured Lens Prescribers.

Shareware software allows computer users to select the color of the foreground and the background of their computer monitor. There is software compatible with Windows 95 available for download here, and also software compatible with more recent Windows operating systems (Screen Tinter LITE) available for download. The software is useful because it allows you to adjust the color when you are working with the application you usually use, but you can also adjust the background color in recent Windows operating systems by following instructions on how to use the Control Panel.

A Sciart project has explored visual stress from complex images.

You may find some of these links useful.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact Arnold Wilkins

Declaration of interest: The Medical Research Council (MRC) owns the rights to the Intuitive Overlays and Intuitive Colorimeter. Professor Wilkins was employed by the MRC and receives an Award to Inventors, based on royalties.