A study of the academic needs of students with visual impairments at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Westville Campus)
Students with visual impairments are often confronted with major challenges at tertiary institutions. This dissertation investigated how students with visual impairments interact in an educational environment that is not designed with their needs in mind. This study further highlighted some of the challenges faced by students with visual impairments at the University of Kwazulu-Natal (Westville Campus) from adequately achieving their academic goals. It also afforded the students with visual impairments an opportunity to become involved in the process of evaluating, planning and bringing about changes in the services that directly affected them. Further it is the intention that the findings of this study will increase the understanding of the university community of the needs of students with visual impairments. This study was exploratory in design as the purpose was to collect as much data as possible in this area of study. A qualitative method using the non probability sampling method was used. This method allowed for the use of the researcher's judgement in identifying and selecting the respondents for the sample group. The sample consisted of 16 students with visual impairments registered at the Westville Campus during the period 2003-2004. To ensure that the respondents understood the procedure of the investigation, the contents of the consent form was made available in alternate format. This is in keeping with the principles of consultation, negotiation, agreement and co- ownership of the research study. In the analysis of this study the information was gathered primarily from an in-depth interview with a schedule. The findings indicated some of the major challenges experienced by students with visual impairments. These were primarily access to academic material, limited human and technological resources, implementation of accommodations during examinations and negative attitude of some members of staff. Recommendations to meet the students' needs focused on university wide education and awareness programmes. Hence, faculties will have to play an important role in facilitating the entry and success of students with visual impairments by making a paradigm shift from the medical/individual explanation of visual disabilities to understanding systemic deficiencies located within the barriers to teaching, learning and support.