Brilliance and Resilience: A New Perspective to the Challenges, Practices and Needs of University Students with Visual Impairments in India

Tigmanshu Bhatnagar, Vikas Upadhyay, PV Madhusudhan Rao, Nicolai Marquardt
Aug. 1, 2023
People with visual impairments in India have low literacy rates and  only a few pursue higher education at the country's top universities. We present an insight into the educational experiences of these few university students with visual impairment based on the Frame of Interdependence. We found that educational challenges arise when interdependence fails due to restricted or misfitted assistance from social relations and ableist social interactions. Analysis of practices to overcome these challenges from the lens of Resilience Theory revealed that students develop a sense of self-confidence through successful academic experiences, internalise external stressors into intrinsic motivation, and find ways to navigate inaccessibility with the available social resources. In addition, students express the need to increase the integration of assistive
technologies in education and facilitate social integration. Finally, we discuss the implications of these findings for equitable and inclusive education practices.
Keywords: Visual Impairment, Education, Assistive Technologies, Global South, Interdependence, Resilience, Interview Study
Nearly a quarter of a million children with visual impairments live in India, where visual impairment (VI) is one of the most feared health problems [1]. Children born with a visual impairment who lose sight at a young age face emotional, social, and economic challenges over a lifetime [2]. The implementation and utilisation of public health programs and overall socioeconomic development have decreased the prevalence of childhood visual impairment in India [3]. On the one hand, it is imperative to reduce vision loss in children by managing preventable and treatable visual impairment. At the same time, it is important to support children with visual
impairments to become independent, integrated and contributing individuals to their society.
Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. But the literacy rate for students with visual impairments (SVIs) in India is significantly lower
than the overall literacy rate of the country [4]. Despite having one of the most progressive policy frameworks in the Global South towards the education of people with disabilities, there remain considerable gaps in implementation. Issues still need to be addressed in providing science and math education, teacher support and training,
braille book access, assistive technologies, tactile displays, and training for screen readers. Attitudinal barriers and an apathetic approach to curriculum adaptation for
SVIs also create a challenging environment to succeed [5,6]. Some universities have implemented policies to support the enrolment of SVIs and provide accommodations to support learning. However, the specific number of SVIs in higher education is hard to find as enrolment is relatively low. A few students overcome significant challenges to attain higher education in competitive subjects from the country's top universities. Previous work has provided a good understanding of the barriers to the education of SVIs. However, it is unclear how social interdependencies play a role in the education of SVIs and how challenges are overcome. Likely, the combination of intrinsic motivation, problem-solving skills, a supportive social network, and the availability of assistive technologies influences overcoming challenges. Understanding the challenges and how SVIs are overcoming them is instrumental for designers and HCI practitioners to create products and services that facilitate more students to make it. Therefore, in this paper, we contribute a thematic analysis of the educational challenges of university students from India through the lens of the Interdependence Framework for Assistive Technology [7] and the strategies students use to overcome challenges with reference to the Resilience Theory [8]. We also identify and interpret the most pressing needs of students considering the above findings.