Vision impairment and the transition to university education: The role of ICTs
The transition to university is a crucial process in the lives of young people who pursue tertiary education. It can be a stressful experience for all students in general but it is especially challenging for those with disabilities. In recent years the number of students with disabilities enrolled in tertiary institutions has grown steadily. Also, the transition to university has become a topic of interest for policy makers and scholars around the world. However, there is still limited research about the transition to university for students with disabilities and the issues they face when they start their university journey. Additionally, very little research has examined the role of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in supporting their transition experience. This research focuses on students with vision impairments, one of the disability groups who have been less studied in academia, and seeks to answer two research questions. First, what are the factors that influence students with vision impairments’experiences of the transition process to university education? Second, how are ICTs used to support this process? The research participants, aged 18 to 24 years old, were all undergraduate students enrolled at Victoria University of Wellington. Data was collected over a year and a half through observations, a researcher diary, individual interviews, social media and focus group meetings. Action research (AR) was the research method used in this qualitative and inductive study. The AR intervention included organising informal face-to-face support group discussions with the participants at different periods of their first trimester at university and setting up a website and a social media group page. The research findings have significant contributions for knowledge and practice. It was found that students with vision impairments are able to develop self-determination skills as they are using and adapting ICTs creatively and innovatively in order to make sense of their transition. This group of students not only use these tools in compensating for their vision impairment but also to interact and collaborate with their peers. This research has also identified five overlapping transition stages: Exploring, Discovering, Coping with, Readjusting and Settling in. Similarly, it includes a description of different transition issues (e.g. academic system, social connections, and financial matters) that have a positive and/or negative impact on the transition experience. Likewise, the findings show that ICTs play a role in the transition to university and that this role varies depending on the transition stage, the transition issues the students with vision impairments deal with and their personal needs. To a large extent, ICTs are embedded in the everyday activities of the students with vision impairments. In addition to using adaptive technologies, they have already incorporated other tools, such as Web 2.0 (e.g. Facebook), and portable devices (e.g. smartphones), and use them for their university activities and transition experience. In this respect, this research suggests rethinking transition in terms of the idea of Transition 2.0, a concept that describes the current escenario of transition to university for students with vision impairments. This study represents a significant contribution from the field of information systems (IS) to research areas such as disability and tertiary education.