McLaughlin, R., & Kamei-Hannan, C. (2018). Paper or digital text: Which reading medium is best for students with visual impairments ? Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness , 112 (4), 337–351.

Journal Article

McLaughlin, R., & Kamei-Hannan, C. (2018). Paper or digital text: Which reading medium is best for students with visual impairments? Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 112(4), 337–351.


Color contrast device or software; Electronic administration; Enlarged print (on paper); High school; Magnification device or software; Middle school; Multiple accommodations; Multiple ages; Reading; Screen display; U.S. context; Visual impairment (including blindness)




The test conditions were combinations of paper-based presentation and large print versus electronic tablet-based (iPad2) magnification and font- and background-contrast colors and page formatting (with Read2Go software).


A small convenience sample of 3 students with visual impairments—ages 12–17, in grades 7, 10, and 11—participated; participants attended school in an unspecified state (U.S.). Additional demographic data such as gender, along with students' self-report of the nature of their visual impairments, were reported. All participants' visual acuity were estimated, and all were asked to wear corrective vision supports during task completion.

Dependent Variable

Researchers gathered data on silent reading and oral reading production with two types of measures: simple stopwatches for completion time associated with reading speeds, as well as observed number of errors in pronunciation. The research questions pertained to task features and their association with reading fluency, including speededness of reading (words per minute) and accuracy (i.e., low number of pronunciation errors). The underlying assumptions were that "readers who struggle with fluency often have poor comprehension" (p. 338), and that cognitive overload can limit students' comprehension performance. The Johns Basic Reading Inventory (Johns, 2012) was used to independently set the reading skill levels for the participants.


In terms of reading speed, a component of fluency, all participants (who had visual impairments) tended to read text moderately faster when using the iPad compared with paper, both for silent and oral reading activities. Across sessions, students each tended to increase their reading speeds by five to 10 words per minute with the iPad format, while decreasing reading speeds for the paper format. Individual participants' specific data were detailed. Only one of the three participants chose to change the font size (from 24-point to 27-point) and color contrast settings; this student, Cody, completed 50 percent more reading tasks than the others, yet at a slightly slower average reading speed than the others. He indicated that using this setting choice gave him less fatigue and allowed him more efficiency in eye function. In terms of accuracy, measured by documenting the number and type of errors, students had mixed results between paper and electronic tablet formats, and the rate of errors was not significantly different by format, either overall (about 10% or less) or in error type. The researchers noted that "none of the errors were significant enough to influence comprehension rates" (p. 345). Reading comprehension had a maximum score of 40, and participants' scores were all at or very close to this maximum, and did not vary by reading task or condition. In discussing the study's results, the researchers noted that, although tablet-based reading had essentially no impact on reading comprehension performance, the participants' increased reading speed was important, because students with visual impairments tend to have slower than average reading rates, sometimes affecting the amount of academic content that they tend to complete. They stated: "the ability to increase reading speed as a result of a technology intervention accomplishes dual objectives: developing technology skills and improving reading foundational skills" (p. 347). Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.