Beal, C. R., & Rosenblum, L. P. (2018). Evaluation of the effectiveness of a tablet computer application (app) in helping students with visual impairments solve mathematics problems . Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness , 112 (1), 5–19.

Journal Article

Beal, C. R., & Rosenblum, L. P. (2018). Evaluation of the effectiveness of a tablet computer application (app) in helping students with visual impairments solve mathematics problems. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 112(1), 5–19.


Braille; Electronic administration; Elementary; Enlarged print (on paper); Extra blank or specialized paper; High school; Math; Middle school; Multiple ages; Paraphrasing; Technological aid; U.S. context; Visual impairment (including blindness)




Comparisons were investigated between students' typical literacy medium and students using an electronic tablet application (app) for being presented with mathematics word problems. These students with visual impairments were typically presented with these types of math problems on paper in either large print or braille form. In other words, essentially, the researchers compared students' performance when using their usual accommodated presentation format (large print or braille) with their performance when using a novel accommodated presentation format (electronic app).


Participants in this mixed (quantitative and qualitative data) study were 43 students with visual impairments in grades 4–10; several (n=13) were in grade 7. These students were from across 17 states (U.S.). Demographic data such as genders and ages were also reported. Additional details were also reported about the nature of students' visual impairments (e.g., glaucoma or cataracts) and academic placements—15 in specialized or residential schools, and 28 in regular public schools. Teachers (n=30) of these students also participated, including receiving orientations to the electronic tablet app, and reporting data rating the degree of assistance they provided to students when they completed the math problems.

Dependent Variable

Sets of 24 mathematics story problems (also called word problems) aligned to Common Core State Standards for grade 6 math, incorporating pre-algebra content, were completed by student participants under the two task completion conditions. Teachers provided completed surveys rating the degrees of support that their students sought and relative independence they demonstrated while completing math items, and the degrees of students' motivation. Phone interviews with a subset of student participants yielded their experiences and preferences in completing test-like academic tasks. Phone interviews with a subset of their teachers permitted gathering usability details on the electronic tablet application (app), such as students' task-completion difficulties and possible improvements.


Performance comparisons between accommodations of either large print or braille presented on paper versus on an electronic tablet through an app yielded that 88% scored higher on the electronic tablet, 5% scored higher on paper, and 7% scored similarly on both. These performance differences occurred throughout the participants' grade levels. The tablet app provided immediate feedback, including hints when students' first test answer was incorrect, and students rarely stopped attempting to reach the correct answer; in this way, the electronic tablet format functioned as an instructional accommodation, facilitating students' task independence. Students were observed using various features on the tablet app in different frequencies. All of the participants using large print used the scratch pad, but braille users either never opened that app (75%) or opened it without using it for computation (25%). Other apps had low usage, including glossary—by 19% of braille users and 11% of print users. Teachers rated the degree of assistance they provided at students' request; assistance included navigation on the tablet, explaining the math problems, computing the math, and discussing the graphics. Teachers mostly indicated being asked for assistance for very few test items, and when asked for help, students most often sought a little help (1 on a scale of 0 to 4). Braille users and print users sought assistance with similar numbers of items and to similar degrees. Teachers responded to survey questions by reporting ratings of higher motivation by students when completing the math test problems presented on the tablet than on paper; during interviews, more teachers (78%) expressed the impression that students were more engaged with the test on the tablet, and 22% reported no difference in engagement with the test on the tablet than on paper. Most students (78%) indicated their preference to use the tablet app when completing math word problems, and 15% preferred the familiarity of their usual paper-based format. Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.