Blind and low-vision readers
QuikScan benefits both blind and low-vision readers
A significant amount of research has been performed to determine the value of QuikScan for blind and low-vision readers. The findings, broadly interpreted and briefly stated, are that QuikScan provides significant benefits in comprehension and retention, that QuikScan is appreciated, and that the benefits may be greatest for higher performing vs. lower performing blind and low-vision readers.
Difficulty conducting research
It is important to recognize the difficulty of obtaining reliable research results. Blind and low-vision readers read in an entirely different way from one another, and there are there are also great differences within these two groups. For example, many blind readers employ one of the text-to-speech software products, while others employ refreshable Braille or text-to-speech and Braille in combination. There are also great differences among these people in reading ability and in the skill with they employ their assistive technologies. A related factor is that blind and low-vision individuals often suffer from diabetes, motor impairment, and other medical conditions. These factors make it very difficult to construct studies with adequate sample sizes for the different categories of visually impaired research participants.
Furthermore, the Kasch experiments, like many others, were performed in a school setting with significant constraints on the study design stemming from students’ curricula and class schedules. One problem is that study texts were unrealistically brief (mostly about 1000–1200 words). So, research findings, while valuable, must be regarded as somewhat tentative.
Earlier in the evolution of QuikScan, two very capable blind readers and text-to-speech users examined Classic QuikScan, offered very favorable opinions, and contributed suggestions for improving the design. (For information on the pilot test conducted with one of these individuals, see the “Blind reader and partial vision excerpts“).
For these two readers, the main benefits of QuikScan were the section summaries and the support they provide for selective reading. Because blind readers cannot skip past unwanted material as readily as sighted readers, they face what is called the “skippability problem.” These blind readers saw QuikScan as a good way to address the skippability problem.
In 2013 Julia Kasch conducted a careful qualitative study for her bachelor’s thesis at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands. The study consisted primarily of observation and interviews with students who spent time reading a Classic QuikScanned text. There were no reading-performance measurements. The interviews showed that both blind and low-vision readers using a range of assistive technologies responded very favorably to QuikScan. They especially appreciated the summaries. Some but not all used QuikScan for selective reading. The students also suggested modifications in the design of QuikScan that would better suit their own visual impairment and assistive technologies, and a high-contrast viewing option, suggested by a student, has been incorporated into the QuikScan Views web app.
For her 2015 masters thesis, Ms. Kasch conducted a series of three experiments observing and measuring retention and information search. After reading a QuikScan text, the participants wrote their own summary without looking back at the text. In the QuikScan experimental condition, both high-performing and lower-performing visually impaired students wrote better summaries, a measure of better comprehension and retention. In addition, although these students did not search more effectively with QuikScan texts, they employed more synonyms in their search activities, another measure of high-level comprehension and retention. No significant differences were found for the low-level concept retention test.
Follow-on research, which has not been published, was conducted by Hans van der Meij and Thea van der Geest, who had supervised Julia Kasch’s master’s thesis. This research increased the sample size, but added students with considerably lower reading capabilities. In the follow-on research QuikScan texts again resulted in better summarization, but only when the students knew they would be asked to write a summary. Furthermore, QuikScan did not improve either high- or low-level concept retention.
In both Kasch’s 2015 experiments and the follow-on research, participants reported positive impressions of QuikScan, but had a more qualified positive response than the participants in Kasch’s 2013 qualitative study. The 2015 research employed a modified version of QuikScan, optimized for users of text-to-screen software. This version, however, added considerable redundancy, and the redundancy appears to be the reason for some of the negative comments. This raises the complex issue of optimization.
Modifying QuikScan for visually impaired readers
Ideally, there would be only one QuikScan design suitable for both fully sighted and visually impaired readers, but it may prove necessary to optimize for visually impaired readers and perhaps to optimize differently for different categories of visually impaired readers. Fortunately, many modifications can be implemented quickly with global search and replace and MS Word macros, and some optimizations can be implemented as optional viewing options in standard QuikScan. Even so, the issue of modification poses some difficulty for the use of QuikScan for visually impaired readers.
In conclusion, research demonstrated improved comprehension and retention, but not on all measures. Probably QuikScan offers more benefits to high performing blind and low-vision readers. More research certainly seems warranted, but the time, it seems, has come to move research into the context of authentic use. The benefits of QuikScan should be determined when full-length books and articles are made available to visually impaired readers who want to read them.