This write up is designed as a presentation in Workshop for Teacher Educators
For this project I decided to explore the plight of visually impaired student’s in higher levels of education and at the same time consider that they could also be in the group Second Language Learners (SLL). In my presentation I highlight their challengers in accessing quality instructions in these institutions. I then suggest solutions to these challenges by emphasizing on the use of best teaching practices in the higher institutions of learning through universal design for learning.
Lack of sight is an obvious barrier to the acquisition of new dispositions by the students who are blind or visually impaired Barry (1997). Research shows that despite many decades of worthy and charitable intentions, poor education and rampant unemployment continue to leave most visually impaired people without the skills and resources to emerge from isolation, poverty, and restriction. (WAFTB, 2011). The essence of educating persons who are blind and visually impaired is to increase their independence, security, equality of opportunity and quality of life. Teachers of the visually impaired are therefore concerned with helping their learners to acquire knowledge, skills and values just as it is the case for the sighted students. Traditionally and it is still happening in the developing countries for example Kenya today, these students have been educated in special schools in isolation from their sighted peers. Additionally, it was believed that the best way to educate these students is to lecture to them since they have good sense of hearing and to provide to them digital braille since they can read by touch. The students were never offered tactile graphics since it was believed that the students cannot master spatial concepts presented in graphics (Groenewegen, 2005). The students educated in the traditional way obviously faces a rough transition from the segregated school to the inclusive environment of higher institutions including universities. There has been a great development in educating these students especially in developed world for example US but still there is a lot to be improved. My project will further investigate the extent into which the visually impaired learners access quality investigations in higher institutions of learning and particularly in the universities.
Challenges Facing Visually Impaired Students in Access of Quality Instruction in Universities
Despite the technological revolution and the policies governing accessibility of information through this technology now in force (IDEA, 2004, UN, 2006, AT Act, 1998 and Section 504 of the Federal Rehab Act, 1973), there still exist significant instructional barriers for the learners who are blind and especially those who are English language learners to access quality education. Kashdan and Barns (2012) observed that teaching ELLs students who are visually impaired involves complex challenges. These challenges include coping with inaccessible intake tools and training materials in the mainstream.
Furthermore, Kildal (2008) observes that the computer-internet revolution has relied much on and has greatly boosted the development of visual literacy compared to the tactile literacy. In case of sighted users, highly specialized data visualizations (designed to exploit human vision and visual information processing) provide quick and easy access to overview information. Additionally, it help with the performance of various aspect of information analysis such as identifying trends, pattern and features that might be of interest. Nothing so far of this nature has been invented to enable the persons with blindness to access the information in the same way.
Research has also shown that use of tactile data as external memory aids to prevent high mental workload levels while speech helps in accessing detailed information on demand (Galajdova, 2005). Additionally, tactile pictorial presentations enhance representation, interpretation (clarification of difficult text) and enhancement of memory. Carney et al, (2002) and Kildal, (2008), affirm that this aspect of learning still lack for the students who are blind. Furthermore, the challenges are enhanced barriers to the provision of a wide array of online material as well as the traditional paper-based material for the visually impaired students. Securing original material in time for other production for example in braille format has been a great challenge (AHRC, 2002).
In addition to these IT barriers, research has shown that by its nature blindness presents obstacles that might greatly affect access to quality education. For example, understanding of information and application of the lessons derived from the information requires a developed cognitive ability. Gauzman and Kozulin, (1998) observes that the learners who are blind are faced by major cognitive problems. The first of the cognitive problems is related to the difference between the simultaneous character of visual perception and the successive character of tactile perception. The second problem stems from the fact that the process of concept formation in learners who are blind is dominated by two extremes: (i) extremely abstract verbal notions that have little support in the learners’ experience, and (ii) extremely concrete tactile images of every-day life objects that possess little potential for generalization. As a result, the everyday concepts that possess a certain degree of generality are under-represented in the cognitive repertoire of the learners who are blind. The third cognitive problem is directly related to the predominant methods of education for the learners who are blind that almost completely exclude two-dimensional schematic representations of objects and processes such as diagrams, charts, plans and maps (tactile graphics). As a result many of the cognitive tools used by sighted students remain underdeveloped in the learners who are blind and those who are visually impaired.
Due to the aforementioned access of AT and learner’s cognition problems, Barfield (2003) observes that productivity for these special needs students often suffers and lags behind other students in the learning situation. One would argue that students who suffer most are those in University and colleges of higher learning because they are often subjected to learning situations where they are expected to work intensively and independently. The long-term effect of this is the apparent lack of employment of the graduates who are blind which has for a long time been invariably blamed on lack of relevant and quality university education of the graduates and the skills required in the labor market (Alade and Eni-Olurunda 2005). This eventually leads to social inequality; increased dependence, lack of security, inequality of opportunity and low quality of life for the students who are blind or visually impaired.
In universities, There is currently no legal (or practical) requirement for access to or guarantee of quality instruction (in fact the idea is that SWD have the same access to instruction good or poor, that students without disabilities have. Given this condition one would want to think that the accessibility of quality instructions in these universities depend largely on the professor’s discretion. Some of these professors might not have had training on how to teach the students with visual impairments. In this sense the accessibility of quality instruction for the students might be compromised.
Best Practice to Educate the Visually Impaired Students in the Universities
I believe the most important thing to do when working with the students who a visually impaired and especially SLL is to first accept that they are not different students. Once one put the student before the medical condition one is able to concentrate on what one think the student can do rather than on what the student cannot do. With this kind of attitude one is able to focus on the real problems these students might face and be able to look for the most appropriate solution for the problems. From here the application of UDL principles and practices will to a large extent give the visually impaired student opportunity to access quality instruction they so deserve (Rose and Dolan, 2000). The best thing to do in this period of time is to shift from the traditional methods of teaching these students where the visually impaired students were educated in isolation from their sighted peers and lectured to and simply provided with only digital braille as a mead to read write and store their notes. Professors who embarrass the use of UDL principles and practices would go far in making these students access quality instructions.
You tube link: Best practice through UDL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7eUf_7dZVM&feature=related
I believe that every teacher has a role to lay in the education of all students. The teachers therefore must not only demonstrate the correct attitude for all types of learners in their classes but also embrace the instructional practices that will give all the learners opportunity to access quality instructions. Quality instructions in this sense will not only enable the students to master content but also enable them to transfer what they learn into real life situations and convert the students to be good learners in the whole of their lives. By doing so the visually impaired persons will be able to confront problems they may face in their daily lives with confidence and hence live fruitful and independent lives.
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World Access for the Blind (WAFB), (2008) Instructional Program and Methodology. Retrieved, September, 12 2011 from, http//www.worldacessfortheblind.org