The Forgotten Tribe in ODL Systems: Challenges Faced by Visually Impaired Students in Institutions of Higher Learning
This study sought to evaluate the challenges faced by visually impaired students in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) Institutions of Higher Learning. This was a case study of the Zimbabwe Open University. Twenty purposefully selected lecturers in the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences and ten blind and visually impaired students participated in the research. Data was collected through student interviews and questionnaires for lecturers and thematically analysed. The results indicated that whilst ODL offers flexible learning opportunities to all, there remains a forgotten tribe in the form of blind and visually impaired students. Consequently, visually impaired students face numerous challenges in their effort to become successful college students. These include lack of qualified lectures to teach them, equipment and services to adequately serve their needs. Both lecturers and visually impaired students felt there was need to have qualified professionals designated to the various needs of these students, appropriate resources for their learning environment should be provided, encourage faculty, academic advisors, staff and other students to proactively respond to the needs of students with visual impairment. The greater awareness that exists regarding visual impairment, the more likely it is that ODL institutions will meet the students’ needs. Further studies need to be done on facilitating the smooth inclusion of visually impaired students in ODL institutions of higher learning.
Key words: visually impaired students, Braille, special needs students, academic advisors, IT systems, ODL institutions of higher learning