Exploring the impact of presentation mode on reading comprehension among sighted and blind individuals

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Natalie Stepien-Bernabe

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Technological advancements have made the distribution of reading materials in audio formats more common. Investigating how presentation mode impacts comprehension among sighted and blind individuals will inform the distribution of information to enhance comprehension. The aims of this study: (1) To investigate the hypothesis that reading comprehension is enhanced by increased physical engagement and cognitive effort and (2) To explore how assistive technology impacts comprehension among blind individuals.

In a within-subjects design, 31 sighted and 32 blind participants read and listened to scientific passages and verbally answered free-response questions about what they read and heard. For sighted participants, passages were presented in text and human voice actor recordings. For blind participants, passages were presented with hard-copy braille, a refreshable braille display, voice actor recordings, and a screen reader.

Comprehension scores were analyzed using mixed-effects regression and pairwise comparisons on the estimated marginal means. In Study 1, the comprehension difference between text or hard-copy braille and the voice actor formats was assessed to address the first aim. Sighted participants had better comprehension in the text compared to voice actor condition, and blind participants had superior comprehension in the hard-copy braille compared to voice actor condition. In Study 2, the comprehension differences among blind participants between the four formats were investigated to address the second aim. Comprehension was better with hard-copy braille and the braille display compared to the screen reader.

While Study 1 supports the hypothesis that more physically-engaging and effortful tasks support comprehension, Study 2 complicates this explanation for blind individuals and suggests that the impact of presentation mode on comprehension may depend on passage topic.