Supporting students with vision impairment in higher education – by Rachel Hewett (School of Education)

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Since 2010, researchers at Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research in DISN, School of Education have been following the post-16 transition experiences of a group of 80 young people with vision impairment. The study has focused in particular detail on the experiences of over 30 participants who made the transition into higher education. Some key findings from these experiences are explored in the following paper.

A significant finding has been the importance of preparation – both in terms of HE institutions being prepared with the necessary knowledge and infrastructure to support a student with vision impairment and in terms of the student having the necessary skills required to work independently in HE. The most positive accounts of transition experience came from participants where the institution had focused on creating an inclusive learning environment and, in keeping with the Equality Act, anticipated the reasonable adjustments the student would require (rather than simply making adjustments in response to challenges faced).

Examples of inclusive practice include ensuring that virtual learning environments are fully accessible, providing lecture notes in advance in an accessible format and providing clear signage around a campus. The research demonstrates, however, that there will be occasions where it is necessary to make individual anticipatory adjustments such as providing tactile versions of diagrams.

Further examples of good practice include providing reading lists sufficiently far in advance to enable alternative formats of textbooks to be sourced and providing timetables in advance to allow students the time to taught routes to get to their different lecture rooms by a trained mobility instructor.

Drawing upon the research, VICTAR have produced two guides designed to improve this transition experience for both students and professionals. Resources for students are hosted on the Royal National Institute of Blind People website and resources for HE staff are hosted on the National Sensory Impairment Partnership website. Both sets of resources, which were funded as part of a Department for Education contract, draw upon findings from the research project through quotes and case studies.

A central message which can be taken from these resources is the importance of both student and institution working together in order to identify practical solutions to overcome the barriers which will inevitably be faced by a student with vision impairment. Key questions therefore are how can we best facilitate the role of partnership at University of Birmingham, and how can we do this in such a way to enable student the student to be as independent as possible.

1 thought on “Supporting students with vision impairment in higher education – by Rachel Hewett (School of Education)”

  1. I was heartened by the example of providing reading lists sufficiently far in advance to enable alternative formats of textbooks to be sourced” and wondered if everybody is aware of this aspect of the Digitisation Service
    https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/libraryservices/library/copyright/digitisation-service/Digitisations-for-Students-Staff-with-Disabilities.aspx
    Whenever possible digitisations are added back on to resource lists, so that everybody can benefit from them.

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