Bar Ilan University (ISRAEL)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN09 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 3208-3219
ISBN: 978-84-612-9801-3
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain
Today it is widely recognized that high school graduation is not enough to prepare adults with special needs for economic and social independence. In Israel, for instance, only 28% of the legally blind population in the 19 – 64 age group are employed (Smith & Smith, 1996). On the other hand, the rate of employment among legally blind graduates is very high: 68% (Berman & Naon, 2004). This indicates the importance of higher education for visually impaired people.?Every year approximately 250 students with visual impairment study at higher education institutes in Israel (Korsiya, 2003). Most of these students have academic and social difficulties and have to develop their own methods and skills to adjust to university. Besides the challenges that every student faces, students with visual impairment have many more, such as learning orientation in the new place and creating a support network. Several studies have investigated aspects of the functioning of university students with visual impairment. They found these students to have difficulties in practical learning tasks, lack of accessible learning materials, lengthening of the time dedicated to learning due to impairment, lack of acceptance and personal issues.

In addition to academic adjustment, another critical factor related to persistence and success at university is ability to adjust socially (Gerdes & Malinckrodt, 1994). Integration into the social environment has been found to be an essential factor influencing one's commitment to the academic system (Tinto, 1975). McBroom (1997) reported that senior students and graduates with visual impairment indicated 11 factors related to their academic success. Five of the factors concerned social interaction, adjustment and functioning: social rejection and social isolation, less time for leisure activities, lack of social skills, fewer friends and small social networks.

The current study examined the ways in which university students with visual impairment adjust to university academically and socially. The study explicitly aimed at incorporating students’ voices and, using in-depth interviews, offers some insight into students’ experiences of the process of adjustment to university. Fifteen students from three large universities in Israel, all defined as legally blind, were interviewed. Interview data were analyzed according to themes.

For participants in this study, the experience of attending university is complex and rich with implications for their lives as independent adults. This qualitative inquiry revealed a holistic picture which presents a whole that is different from the sum of its parts. While attending university, each student went through a repeated process of sense making while simultaneously negotiating his or her identity both as a student and as a person with visual impairment. Students discussed many personal issues, most of them related to social adjustment, stigmas and the perceptions of them by a sighted society. Coping strategies in the areas of academic and social functioning were also a main issue. Results reveal students’ weaknesses versus and strengths in these areas. The study offers insights which can help professionals and support services intervene in the process of adjustment to university and help students with visual impairment graduate successfully.
visual impairment, university students, academic adjustment, social adjustment.