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Reading media used by higher-education students and graduates with visual impairments in Greece.

There is no doubt about the value of braille in the personal and professional lives of people with visual impairments (Hatlen & Spungin, 2008; Spungin, 1996; Wells-Jensen, Wells-Jensen, & Belknap, 2005). Nevertheless, computers and assistive technology are often cited as the means to overcome limited access to information and other environmental barriers for nonprint readers (Gerber, 2003). Gerber noted that a plethora of researchers and practitioners in the field of visual impairment have acknowledged that the use of computers and assistive technology can change the lives of people with visual impairments to a great extent by improving educational and employment opportunities, enhancing social networks, and facilitating independence.

Research conducted in the United Kingdom has found that the proportion of braille readers among people with visual impairments is remarkably low (McCall, 1997; Walker, Tobin, & McKennell, 1991). Furthermore, studies conducted in the United States have revealed that literacy rates in braille have gradually declined over the past five decades (American Printing House for the Blind, 1996; Mullen, 1990). Regarding higher education students in particular, Gray and Wilkins (2005) estimated that only 6.1% of students with visual impairments (including those who are blind or have low vision) are braille readers. They proposed that this low incidence of braille readers may be a result of the increase in the use of computers and assistive technology by students with visual impairments over the past decade.

Much has been said in the literature about the decline in the use of braille and braille literacy. The "braille literacy crisis" has been widely discussed by professionals and censured by consumer groups (Johnson, 1996; Rex, 1989; Ryles, 1996). In the face of the low rate of braille literacy and its possible implications for the future use of braille, braille readers and advocates have argued for the increased use of braille in all areas of life (Wells-Jensen et al., 2005).

Although there is no agreement in the literature on the causes of the decline in the use of braille, several factors have been cited, such as the increase in the number of children with additional disabilities within the population of children with visual impairments (Mullen, 1990; Rex, 1989), the advances in assistive technology that have gained the trust of many people with visual impairments and the use of assistive technology as a viable substitute for braille (Spungin, 1996), negative attitudes toward braille (Johnson, 1996), and the problems associated with the availability of braille and getting brailled texts on time (Emerson, Corn, & Siller, 2006).

THE STUDY

The study reported here explored the use of different reading media by students and graduates of higher education with visual impairments in Greece. In particular, it aimed to investigate the following: (1) the frequency of use of reading media; (2) the factors that affect the frequency of use of braille and computers (that is, screen readers or screen magnifiers); (3) the advantages and disadvantages of the various reading media; and (4) the participants' tendency to change from one reading medium to another and to examine their beliefs about the suitability of each reading medium for satisfying their needs.

Method

Participants. The participants were 61 Greek adults (33 men and 28 women) with visual impairments, aged 19-55 (mean = 29.9, SD = 8.324). Of the 61 participants, 35 were blind or had severe visual impairments and 26 had low vision. On the basis of the participants' visual status, the sample was divided into two subgroups. Participants in the subgroup "blind or with severe visual impairments" did not read visually using any low vision device, while participants in the subgroup "individuals with low vision" read print with or without using low vision devices. In addition, 30 of the 61 participants had a congenital visual impairment and 31 had an adventitious visual impairment. With respect to their level of education, 36 were university graduates and 25 were students in institutions of higher education.

Procedures and instruments. In the study, the ethical principles of the Declaration of Helsinki were followed. In addition, informed consent was obtained from the participants using the appropriate forms and according to the procedure suggested by the World Medical Association.

The participants were interviewed and asked to complete a questionnaire that included the following open- and closed-ended questions:

1. Which reading medium do you use? Select one or more from the following seven: braille, screen-reading software, audiocassette, lens (magnifier), large print, screen-magnification software, and closed-circuit television (CCTV). Please report on a 4-point scale (a lot, quite a lot, a little, or not at all) how often you use each of these media.

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two main reading media: braille and computer (with screen-reading or screen-magnification software)?

3. Have you thought about changing the reading medium or media that you use?

4. What kinds of media formats would you like to find in university libraries?

5. What is your level of satisfaction with the medium or media for your daily, educational, and professional needs, using a 3-point scale (yes, partial, or no)?

RESULTS

Frequency of use of reading media

All but 6 of the 61 participants used more than one reading medium. The percentages of the two subgroups (blind and low vision) who used each reading medium were calculated and are presented in Tables 1 and 2.

Factors that affect the choice of reading media

A multiple regression analysis was conducted using the variables visual status, gender, age at the loss of sight, and training in braille to predict the frequency of use of braille. The analysis yielded an adjusted [R.sup.2] of 0.539 (F = 17.947, p < .001). Significant individual predictors of the frequency of use of braille were visual status ([beta] = -0.570, p < .001), age at the loss of sight ([beta] = -0.232, p < .05), and training in braille ([beta] = 0.316, p < .005). The results revealed that the frequency of use of braille in Greece declines with the increase in the age at which sight was lost and increases with training in braille.

A multiple regression analysis was also conducted using the variables visual status, gender, age at loss of sight, and training in computer use to predict the frequency of use of personal computers (PCs) (that is, screen-reading or screen-magnification software). The analysis showed an adjusted [R.sup.2] of 0.290 (F = 7.028, p < .005). Training in computer use ([beta] = 0.377, p < .005) and gender ([beta] = -0.302, p < .01) were found to be significant individual predictors of the frequency of PC use. The frequency of PC use increases with the rise in training in computer use. Furthermore, the male participants used computers more frequently than did the female participants.

Advantages and disadvantages

In this discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the two main reading media--braille and computer--N indicates the number of participants who mentioned advantages or disadvantages for the specific medium, and n indicates the number of participants who mentioned the specific advantage or disadvantage.

Advantages of computer use. The participants cited the following as advantages of using a computer (N = 56): possibility of reading several texts by scanning them (n = 15), easy access to information (n = 9), ease of navigation (n = 5), Internet connection (n = 4), word processing (n = 3), high reading speed (n = 3), ease of use (n = 3), orthography (n = 3), ability to save much data (n = 2), active navigation (n = 2), independence (n = 1), recreation (n = 1), range of software options (n = 1), tireless (n = 1), concurrent activity (n = 1), ease of reading (n = 1), and sighted people have access as well (n = 1).

Disadvantages of computer use (N = 40): robotic voice (n = 16), high cost (n = 5), technical problems or damage to devices (n = 4), scanning is time consuming (n = 3), limited number of books available in digital formats (n = 2), difficulty of access (n = 2), tiring (n = 2), orthography (n = 2), monotonous media (n = 1), dependence (n = 1), knowledge required for its use (n = 1), and there is not a clear image of the text (n = 1).

Advantages of braille (N = 75): orthography (n = 20), punctuation (facilitates the intonation of voice) (n = 7), integrated writing code (n = 6), direct contact with the text (n = 6), easier to find particular passages (n = 6), read at own rate (n = 5), active reading (n = 4), better perception of the structure of the text (n = 4), notetaking (n = 3), practice in touch (n = 2), range of options (n = 2), easy to comprehend (n = 2), easy to memorize (n = 1), easy to focus (n = 1), accessible (n = 1), portable (n = 1), books are easy to use (n = 1), and speed of reading (n = 1).

Disadvantages of braille (N = 57): bulk of volumes (n = 16), low reading speed (n = 11), limited availability of books (n = 8), tiring (n = 5), difficult to learn (n = 3), high cost (n = 3), needs years of training and practice (n = 2), difficult to use (n = 2), texts need to be modified (n = 2), lack of training (n = 1), sighted people cannot read it (n = 1), lack of contractions (n = 1), difficult to access texts written in foreign languages (n = 1), and use of mathematical symbols (n = 1).

Change of reading medium

The question asked of the participants was: Have you ever thought of changing the reading medium that you use more frequently? Twenty participants had thought about changing the reading media that they used and 33 did not want to make any change. The rest of the participants did not answer this question (see Table 3).

Reading material in libraries

Regarding the preferred format of the reading material, 31 participants stated that they would prefer to find more CD-ROMs in libraries and generally more digital data. In addition, 13 participants stated that they would like to find more books in braille, and 5 stated that they would like to have access to more audiocassettes.

Satisfaction of daily, educational, and professional needs

The participants were asked about the degree to which their everyday, educational, and professional needs were satisfied (one question for each field of needs) on a 3-point scale (yes, partially, or no) for each question. The question regarding the satisfaction of professional needs was not put to the participants who were unemployed. Moreover, some of the participants did not answer several questions. The participants who used computers more frequently (a lot or quite a lot) are more likely to believe that their everyday, educational, and professional needs were satisfied (see Table 4) in comparison to the participants who used computers less frequently (not at all or a little).

DISCUSSION

The analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of reading media, as reported by these Greek participants, leads to two main conclusions. First, the participants reported the most advantages and the most disadvantages with regard to braille. Hence, it seems that they acknowledged the value of braille but were capable of identifying its basic disadvantages as well. The most frequently reported disadvantages of braille, such as its great volume and bulkiness, the low reading speed, the limited material that is available in braille, the reader becoming tired easily, and the great difficulty in learning it, have been mentioned by previous researchers (Johnson, 1996; Lusk & Corn, 2006; Wetzel & Knowlton, 2000).

The results that emerged from the questions on changing reading media and the preferred formats of reading material in libraries demonstrate the participants' preference for the use of PCs and the reading of digital texts. More specifically, most of the participants who wanted to change their reading media wanted to start using a PC as their new basic reading medium. On the other hand, fewer participants wanted to use braille as their new reading medium. Furthermore, most of the participants who did not want to change their reading medium were using only PCs. With regard to the preferred reading material, the majority of participants stated that they would like to find more texts in digital form, whereas considerably fewer participants wanted to find more braille books or more audiocassettes. Another important finding was that all the participants who used a PC frequently believed that their everyday, educational, and professional needs were satisfied.

There is, therefore, an already well-established tendency to use technology, which may lead to a further decline in the frequency of use of braille in Greece in the future. In addition, according to the findings of the study, the frequency of computer use increases with the rise in training in computer use. Hence, since it is expected that the training of people with visual impairments in using computers will be more consistent and systematic in the future, it is likely that young adults will tend to use technology to an even greater extent, which may lead to the further decrease in the use of braille in Greece.

For this reason, efforts should be made to enhance the use of braille. In Greece, the problem of the complexity of braille (Johnson, 1996) does not exist, since Greek braille is mostly uncontracted braille with only a few abbreviations and contractions. Nevertheless, there are several factors that have an impact on the frequency of use of braille. For instance, nonefficient training in braille leads to a decrease in reading speed, and there is a shortage of printed materials, especially materials that are appropriate for adults, that are available in braille.

This Greek study found that the frequency of braille use decreases with the increase in age at the loss of sight and that training in braille has a positive effect on the frequency of braille use. Hence, it is necessary to develop intensive braille courses for people who are visually impaired at a later age.

Limitations

The percentage of use of braille in Greece that was found in this study was high, especially in comparison to the results of studies conducted in other countries. However, the fact that the sample consisted of students and graduates of higher education institutions and the difficulties in training people with visual impairments to use PCs and assistive technology probably affected the results.

REFERENCES

American Printing House for the Blind. (1996). Distribution of federal quota based on the January 3, 1995 registration of eligible students. Louisville, KY: Author.

Emerson, R. W., Corn, A., & Siller, M. A. (2006). Trends in braille and large-print production in the United States: 2000-2004. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 100, 137-151.

Gerber, E. (2003). The benefits of and barriers to computer use for individuals who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 97, 536-550.

Gray, G., & Wilkins, S. M. (2005). A snapshot of 2003-4: Blind and partially sighted students in higher education in England and Northern Ireland. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 23, 4-10.

Hatlen, P., & Spungin, S. J. (2008). The nature and future of literacy: Point and counterpoint. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 102, 389-396.

Johnson, L. (1996). The braille literacy crisis for children. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 90, 276-278.

Lusk, K. E., & Corn, A. L. (2006). Learning and using print and braille: A study of dual-media learners, Part 2. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 100, 653-665.

McCall, S. (1997). The development of literacy through touch. In H. Mason & S. McCall (Eds.), Visual impairment--Access to education for children and young people (pp. 149-158). London: David Fulton.

Mullen, E. (1990). Decreased braille literacy: A symptom of a system in need of reassessment. RE:view, 23, 164-169.

Rex, E. J. (1989). Issues related to literacy of legally blind learners. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 83, 306-313.

Ryles, R. (1996). The impact of braille reading skills on employment, income, education, and reading habits. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 90, 219-226.

Spungin, S. J. (1996). Braille and beyond: Braille literacy in a larger context. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 90, 271-274.

Walker, E., Tobin, M. J., & McKennell, A. (1991). Blind and partially sighted children in Britain: The RNIB survey. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Wells-Jensen, S., Wells-Jensen, J., & Belknap, G. (2005). Changing the public's attitude toward braille: A grassroots approach. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 99, 133-140.

Wetzel, R., & Knowlton, M. (2000). A comparison of print and braille reading rates on three reading tasks. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 94, 146-154.

Konstantinos Papadopoulos, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Educational and Social Policy, University of Macedonia, 156 Egnatia Street, P.O. Box 1591, 54006, Thessaloniki, Greece; e-mail: <kpapado@uom.gr>. Athanasios Koutsoklenis, M.A., Ph.D. student and scholar of the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, Department of Educational and Social Policy, University of Macedonia, 156 Egnatia Street, 54006, Thessaloniki, Greece; e-mail: <akouts@ uom.gr>.
Table 1
Percentage who used reading media on a
4-point scale (students who are blind
or have severe visual impairments).

                         Screen
Use            Braille   reader    Audiocassette

Not at all       8.6      25.7         11.4
A little        17.1      11.4         20.0
Quite a lot     22.9      22.9         14.3
A lot           51.4      40.0         54.3

Table 2
Percentage who used reading media on a 4-point scale
(students with low vision).

                         Screen                           Large
Use            Braille   reader    Audiocassette   Lens   print

Not at all      46.2      30.8         26.9        42.3    42.3
A little        34.6      19.2          7.7        11.5    11.5
Quite a lot     11.5      19.2         23.1        23.1    19.2
A lot            7.7      30.8         42.3        23.1    26.9

                Screen
Use            magnifier   CCTV

Not at all       46.2      76.9
A little         11.5       3.8
Quite a lot       7.7       7.7
A lot            34.6      11.5

Table 3
Changes that the participants wanted to make and the reading
media that were used by the participants who did not want to
make any change.

Did not want                Had thought about changing
to change (n = 33)          (n = 20)

PC users (n = 8)            From audiocassettes to PC
                              (n = 8)
Audiocassette users         From audiocassettes to
  (n = 6)                     braille (n = 4)
Braille users (n = 5)       From audiocassettes to
                              something else (undefined)
                              (n = 1)
Braille and PC users        From braille to PC (n = 3)
  (n = 5)
Braille and audiocassette   From braille to something
  users (n = 5)               else (undefined) (n = 1)
PC and audiocassette        From PC to braille (n = 3)
  users (n = 2)
Braille, PC, and
  audiocassette users
  (n = 2)

Table 4
Satisfaction of everyday, educational, and professional
needs in relation to the frequency of use of screen readers.

                        Everyday needs         Educational needs

Frequency of use    Yes     Partially   No   Yes   Partially   No

Not at all or        14         4       4    15        2       5
  a little
A lot or quite       30         4       3    28        3       6
  a lot

                      Professional needs

Frequency of use     Yes    Partially   No

Not at all or        8          2       3
  a little
A lot or quite       23         0       2
  a lot
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Title Annotation:Around the World
Author:Papadopoulos, Konstantinos; Koutsoklenis, Athanasios
Publication:Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Dec 1, 2009
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