FACTORS CONFRONTING STUDENTS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENT IN ACCESSING E-LEARNING
Background to the Study
The use of the e-learning is an integral tool for communication in the twenty first century (Buckley, 2000). However, there are many people with vision impairments who need to learn specific skills in order to take advantage of this tool. Such people have previously been disadvantaged due to inaccessible learning materials or instructional media which have not been tailored to their specific needs.
Generally, people who have acute vision disabilities find it difficult to obtain suitable employment. According to department of finance – Australia, this resulted in low income and in turn affects their quality of life. Numerous research projects report show low achievement at secondary and tertiary levels for the vision impaired and this is often the result of a lack of accessibility of the learning materials in addition to a lack of knowledge and understanding of disabilities by the teaching staff (Dept Finance, 2010). Figures produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2009) demonstrate that there is a significant difference between educational achievement and employment income between those with a disability and those without.
Four million people in Australia (18.5%) reported having a disability according to the results of the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Careers. Vision Australia (2007) reports that 63% of people who are blind or vision impaired and who are of working age are unemployed. Education is a vital factor in preparing students to develop into responsible adulthood who can take their place in the work force. It is therefore important that those with vision impairments are able to access as complete an education as possible so that they can gain useful employment and participate constructively in society.
For all students, vision is the primary sense necessary for successful learning and development (Kelly et al., 2000). One of the main difficulties caused by visual impairment is the problem of access to information, and with the developing use of technology. This difficulty is increasing (Armstrong et al., 2010). Without vision, students and teachers use speech to a much greater extent and a virtual classroom is needed to supplement the physical classroom and laboratory setting. ICT, to a large extent remains out of reach in most African education systems although there is growing interest and commitment for it. The UNESCO’s motto: “Education for All” has given “Special Education” a place in the agenda of many governments with some emphasis on providing learners with adequate teaching and learning materials. What remains is the challenge on how to achieve these targets and commitments.
According to European Agency for Developments in Special Needs Education (2011), one problem is the lack of basic means of communication and electronic infrastructure which remains a greatest obstacle for many African Governments; to implement their plans other challenges include the provision of adequate resourcing for low to medium technology applications such as teaching – learning aids. One has to look at only the limited access to computer and information technology to recognize the gap.
The most intimidating task for African Governments is to find the resources to ensure that teachers have relevant and appropriate teaching tools in the classroom. Currently, the vast majority of their budgets are spent on military hardware and unnecessary luxurious life infrastructure of Officials and state leaders with little left for “ICT” or other learning tools including textbooks in Braille and accessible writing equipments for the visually impaired students (Kelly & Davidson, 2000).
Despite their prevalence, a large majority of special schools are providing education only for a very small proportion of children with Special Educational Needs (Lanbon, 2011). Governments across the world are moving towards inclusive education. However, in the continent of Africa, they rarely accompany ICT policies with adequate resourcing, teacher training or policy changes. On the other hand, governments in Africa render top priority to poverty and other basic needs. Very little efforts are for supporting and improving the ICT context. However, they have found it difficult to deal with the need to “bridge the gap”. It has become a complex one requiring organic home grown solutions, particularly in the face of growing food insecurity, conflict and unsafe life pattern on the continent (Boison, 2000).
One promising case is the Ethiopian Government’s initiative to use ICT at the senior secondary level, which aims to provide over 500 high schools with access to plasma television and educational broadcasting in 2004. However, this new ICT initiative has not included blind students in the policy. Therefore, blind teachers and students have become victims of this new ICT educational policy in Ethiopia. The same is what is happening in the life of blind community in many African countries for last several years. Indeed, many blind students and teachers had to do for full academic years in their school without textbooks and other reference materials in Brail. The Braille versions of their textbooks don’t reach them until after the school years have ended.
On their article 232, Technologically Enhanced Open and Distance Learning for All in Developing Countries In examining the technology challenges in developing countries Mnyanyi, Bakari and Mbwette (2011) conducted an empirical study and reviewed literature from Tanzania and other countries, both developed and developing countries. The review of literature aimed at bringing the reader to the understanding of concepts used and relate to what is happening in Nigeria and other developing countries
From IPP Media in Jan 8, 2014 in relation to the project to evaluate the promotion of disability inclusion in Tanzania, implemented by CCBRT. According to Cosmas Mnyanyi, the main objectives of ICT literacy programs are to help people with vision disabilities improve their professional and personal lives, enhance their productivity and employment prospects, help them gain wider access to information and increase their ability to participate in and interact with society.
Mnyanyi said as a lecturer at OUT he would make sure people with disabilities do have equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of mainstream communication products and services. He said, to many people, being visually impaired means to be automatically disqualified from fully taking part in various activities because of physical, mental and social obstacles vision disability traditionally carries. Acquiring ICT knowledge and skills can drastically change the lives of people with vision disabilities, he added. It was, however, a big challenge for people with disabilities, particularly vision disability, to have access on learning and seeking information through computer. OUT, through a special education department, offers the program to all people with disabilities, including non-college students.
To date 56 people with disabilities have already learned ICT, the ultimate goal being to ensure all people with disabilities in the country learn ICT. “We use a Non Visual Desktop Application (NVDA) in our program so as to make them identify the kind of words that they type by hearing it through wearing earphones.” Dr Cosmas Mnyanyi of the Open University of Nigeria clarified that not everyone who went to the center was born with vision disability as some were born with normal vision, only to have their sight deteriorate in later years or had their vision damaged through accidents. He said people who are blind or low vision faced a dual challenge in relation to computer technology, like they need to learn to use mainstream devices and software and understand how they work. Besides, he said, they have to learn additional skills to use assistive technology such as screen reading software and magnification systems. If they cannot see the mouse pointer they learn alternative ways of navigating a screen and operating the software.
The Information Communication Technology (ICT) has now been recognized as the driving force and primary gadget for almost all progressive initiatives that rely on knowledge-based and skills-oriented development activities in all spheres of human endeavor. That is why the issue of accessibility to information (communication technology has been brought to the forefront of human rights. In order for equal access to information communication technology to be a realistic possibility, different groups of people and sections of the society do require to take part in and to be entitled for varying degrees of adaptive/assistive technology depending on their special needs and particular circumstances. This, as a matter of fact, is the focus of attention of this research.
Statement of the Problem
Usually, persons with visual impairment require more instructional resources than those without visual impairment to function well. The student with visual impairment needs ICT tools like auditory and talking devices, Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) and Wind Braille to enhance his or her learning.
This considerably bridges the knowledge gap between the student with sight and the student with visual impairment. Inopportunely, the student with visual impairment seems to have been neglected. The visual impaired students do not benefit from e-learning like their fellow students with vision. This problem is at Tabora Girls Secondary School in Tabora Municipality, as it is the only school that admits visually impaired students.
This research was to identify the challenges facing visual impaired students in accessing e-learning and suggest how to solve the problem. If no measures were taken the visual impaired students would remain socially excluded. The problem would continue in the future if it was not solved, as loss of sight to our society would continue to be there due to different factors, such as diseases, heredity and accidents.
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