Readability Optimization for Older Adults


Congratulations to Shalah Dean Thomas, recipient of the 2022 Richard Tucker Gerontology Grant from The Learning Institute for Elders (LIFE) at the University of Central Florida. Shalah’s research will investigate readability optimization for older adults to increase the usability of documents and improve reading performance. She will evaluate two readability features – word spacing and stroke width – and their impact on aging populations. Her goal is to improve reading outcomes for adults so they can improve their quality of life.

The Gerontology Awards Committee of LIFE oversees the highly competitive selection process. LIFE awards research conducted by UCF faculty, staff, or graduate students. Shalah is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at UCF and a researcher at the Virtual Readability Lab.

Shalah joins readability researchers working to improve reading outcomes for children and adults; Readability Matters is excited to follow Shalah’s work with this important demographic, older adults.

Congratulations, Shalah!


Using Readability Optimization to Improve Older Adults’ Reading Performance and Usability of Document

Shalah Dean Thomas, Candidate for Ph.D., Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems

With age, older adults encounter changes to their vision which can cause reading difficulties. There is a need to help older adults read effectively and longer, as loss of ability to read can have strong impacts on quality of life. My research aims are to identify the most effective word spacing and stroke width to help improve reading speed and comprehension for older adults using digital devices.


UCF Life Institute for EldersABOUT LIFE at UCF: The Learning Institute For Elders at UCF began in 1991. LIFE at UCF is now a 501(c)3 organization in partnership with and hosted by the university. Members of this organization are 50 and older. They enjoy stimulating, non-credit, lifelong learning experiences on the UCF campus and occasionally in the local community. Talented faculty members from every UCF college and talented professionals from the local community share their knowledge and passions in weekly presentations to the membership on the UCF campus.

ABOUT the Richard Tucker Gerontology Applied Research Grant. The competitive grant is specifically for Applied Gerontology Research conducted at UCF by UCF faculty, staff, or graduate students under the sponsorship of UCF professors. The research may be proposed or in progress. Approved grants can range up to the full yearly allotted funding. However, significant priority is given to selecting the most projects that can be funded within the yearly approved funding. Applications are required. The Application submission window opens each year in October and ends the following February. Awards are presented in March and are administered through the UCF Foundation. Selection is made by a separate Gerontology Awards Committee that makes recommendations to the LIFE board for final approval. The program includes interviewing finalists. An email announcing the program details is made to the UCF faculty at the beginning of the fall semester.

Shalah Dean ThomasABOUT Shalah Dean Thomas. Shalah is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at the University of Central Florida. Her interest in Engineering started when a recruiter visited her middle school and told her class about the different types of engineers. She later attended Grand Rapids Area Pre College Engineering Program (GRAPCEP) High School. During her four years of high school, she had the opportunity to construct shapes using SolidWorks and create wooden games using CNC Machining. During her sophomore year, she attended the summer MITE engineering camp at the University of Michigan, where she had the convenience to build hydrogen cars and learn more about mechanical engineering on a daily basis. The summer before Shalah’s senior year of high school, she had the chance to participate in a competitive summer engineering internship at Dematic Corporation in Grand Rapids, MI. During her internship, she was responsible for putting point loads on the buildings using AutoCad and calculating horsepower and speed of conveyor systems on blueprints and in Microsoft Excel.

After graduating high school, Shalah attended Jackson State University (JSU) for Computer Engineering. During her sophomore year of college, one of her professors helped her gain a one-year contract engineering internship at ERDC. During this time, Shalah was given the opportunity to code a multi chat program using C++ and python. The company wanted to extend her contract until she graduated but Shalah declined due to wanting to be more involved in activities at her University. The summer before Shalah’s senior year of college she was granted the opportunity to participate in a competitive summer engineering internship at Northrop Grumman in Huntsville, Alabama. During this internship she was responsible for using UPDM and SysML when creating activity diagrams in CAMEO and documenting messages. When Shalah graduated from JSU she had over 10 job opportunities lined up, but she chose Lockheed Martin (LM) in Orlando, FL. During her time at LM, she has been a Model Based Systems Engineer II. Shalah also obtained her Master’s Degree at University of Central Florida (UCF) in Engineering Management and is now pursuing her Doctoral Degree in Industrial Engineering. She is a researcher in the Virtual Readability Lab at UCF.

In her free time, she loves spending time with her family, she also enjoys spending time and traveling the world with her husband. Shalah and her husband are youth leaders at Faith Builders Worship Center (FBWC) of Auburndale, FL. She is also over the ICreate group for the Leading Ladies at church (FBWC). Shalah enjoys creating items and is the CEO of her own business THEE Kr3ative Princes5 LLC. She is also an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated.