Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Reading Media Used by Higher-Education Students and Graduates with Visual Impairments in Greece

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Reading Media Used by Higher-Education Students and Graduates with Visual Impairments in Greece

Article excerpt

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. …

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