Echoing the voices of Students with Visual Impairment under COVID-19 Inspired Online Learning

Students with visual impairment at the University of Ghana are calling for a return to the face-to-face mode of teaching and learning post COVID-19.

 The preference for in-person classroom lectures is because of various challenges faced by the students as they transitioned to studying virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These observations formed part of the recommendations of a study conducted by Dr. Samuel Amponsah, a Senior Lecturer and Acting Head of the Department of Distance Education at the School of Continuing and Distance Education (SCDE).

At a seminar organized by the Department of Distance Education, Dr. Amponsah noted that because of the limitations brought about in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many higher educational institutions, including the University of Ghana, have migrated teaching and learning activities from face-to-face engagement to online learning platforms.

The seminar, on the theme “Echoing the voices of Students with Visual Impairment under COVID-19 Inspired online Learning”, sought to explore how students with visual impairments are coping with the new ways of learning brought about because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Dr. Amponsah, the research was targeted at investigating and documenting the different qualitative perspectives as well as the individual experiences of 13 students at the University of Ghana with visual impairments (SWVIs) as they transitioned and studied fully in a novel virtual space. The theoretical underpinning for the study was based on the “Theory of Care”.

Dr. Amponsah noted that although the University has put in place some measures for students with special needs, a lot more needs to be done for students with visual impairments.

The Office of Students with Special Needs (OSSN) provides various services for students with disability, with the major services tailored towards visual impairment being transcription of notes and examinations, provision of recordings and brailling. He added that the OSSN is equally responsible for providing appropriate quarters for professional counselling and other services that students with disabilities may require.

In the researcher’s interaction with the students, one noted that “the truth of the matter is that because I am a minority, definitely the lecturer will be oblivious that there is someone like that (an SWVI) in the lecture hall and will therefore fail to recognize you when performing a demonstration. The lecturer will, therefore, be pointing on the screen, meanwhile you do not have sight to see”.

Another student remarked that, “Initially I was against it [online learning], because personally I’m not technologically inclined, in terms of using the laptop, accessing the Sakai and other platforms”.

After a careful analysis of both global and national policies on inclusiveness for persons with disability, Dr. Amponsah outlined some gaps identified by scholars on the subject matter.

Citing various scholarly works, Dr. Amponsah noted that there is not much research on the struggles of persons with disability in Ghana, with many policies failing to meet the needs of the PWDs due to overgeneralization. Additionally, research on students living with disability is dominated by the voices and perspectives of teachers; rather than students.

Beyond these gaps, he argued that the focus of policies have been geared towards restructuring curriculum instead of seeking alternative means to help the PWDs. Again, there is no research documenting the experiences and challenges of students with visual impairment studying in an online environment.

In conclusion, the study called for a policy of inclusiveness which embeds ‘ubuntu’ (common humanity) and human awareness to reverse inequalities among students, and also recommended continuous development practices for faculty and staff to have a clear understanding of inclusiveness and the challenges of SWVIs.