Assistive Technology and Access to Quality Instruction for Blind and Visually Impaired Students: A Comparative Study of Kenyatta University, Kenya and Syracuse University, USA
Mugo, Bernard Chomba
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University students who are blind and those who are visually impaired (VI) need to access quality instruction just like their sighted peers. Accessing quality instruction is a necessary first major step to success in their education and hence their independence. Due to the deterrent nature of blindness, students who are blind or VI require specialized and meaningful utilization of Assistive Technology (AT) for them to benefit from the instruction. With the advancements of technology, computer adapted hardware, software and other AT devices for the blind and Braille printout can make a great improvement to the education of these students. The AT for example can support active process of interactive data exploration non-visually. Braille printout can be used as external memory aids to prevent high mental workload levels and speech synthesis can be used to access detailed information on demand. By offering both tactile and audio techniques to extract overview information efficiently, the students with blindness will function independently and effectively. Universities should therefore seize the opportunity brought by the rapidly evolving communication technologies to create flexible methods and materials that can reach the blind and VI students. This study sought to establish the extent to which the blind and VI students in universities accessed quality instruction through assistive technology available for them in the world. The study’s specific objectives were to: (i) Establish the assistive technology available for the blind students in Kenyatta University and in Syracuse University, (ii) Establish the awareness of the students about the assistive technology available for them. (iii) Determine legal policies predetermined to guarantee access of quality instructions by these students (iv) Examine how the assistive technology was employed to ensure quality instruction for the blind students in both KU and SU and (v) Establish measures taken by KU and SU to improve the utilization of the assistive technology for the blind. This research adopted a comparative case study design. The comparative study of universities in the developing countries and developed countries in this issue led to fresh, exciting insights and a deeper understanding of this phenomenon which was of central concern in these countries. In essence, the study led to the identification of gaps in knowledge about the use of the assistive technology and pointed out to possible directions that could be followed. The study interviewed 22 students who are blind and those who are visually impaired and 8 university staff who provided AT services for the students. The data for this study was gathered through the use of Questionnaire, interview protocol, Class observation guide, checklists and documentary analysis guide. These instruments were piloted in the University of Nairobi. The data that was obtained from the research instruments was analyzed manually and presented descriptively. In summary the study found out that there was a serious scarcity of AT for the blind and the instructional strategies and methodologies did not meet the needs of the students. Some of the major suggestions the study made were: enough AT be provided to the students and lecturers be in-serviced in the instructional technology and methods for the blind. Further studies in this field were also suggested. It was envisaged that the findings, recommendation and suggestions of this study would be helpful to Blind and VI students, their teachers, curriculum developers and policy makers in the area of education.