Technological advancements have made distributing 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 were (1) to investigate the hypothesis that reading comprehension is enhanced by increased physical engagement and cognitive effort through text or braille and (2) to explore how assistive technology impacts comprehension for blind individuals.
In a within-subjects design, 31 sighted and 34 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 with text (mean, 74.8%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 70.5 to 79.1%) than with a voice actor (mean, 69.7%; 95% CI, 65.4 to 74.0%; P = .02), and blind participants had superior comprehension with hard-copy braille (mean, 70.4%; 95% CI, 63.3 to 77.5%) than with a voice actor (mean, 61.9%; 95% CI, 54.7 to 69.0%; P = .03). 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 (mean, 70.6%; 95% CI, 63.4 to 77.7%) than with a screen reader (mean, 60.7%; 95% CI, 53.5 to 67.9%; P = .02) and better with a braille display (mean, 69.7%; 95% CI, 62.5 to 76.9%) than with a screen reader (P = .04).
Study 1 supports the hypothesis that more physically engaging tasks enhance comprehension, and study 2 suggests that listening to scientific materials using a synthesized voice may reduce comprehension ability compared with hard-copy braille and braille displays.