Understanding the Uptake, Barriers, and Challenges to Using Screen- reading software for Learning Experienced by University Students with Vision Impairments in Pakistan

Author: Muhammad Babar Shahzad

Shahzad, Muhammad Babar, 2022 Understanding the Uptake, Barriers, and Challenges to Using Screen- reading software for Learning Experienced by University Students with Vision Impairments in Pakistan, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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The human rights model of disability views disability as the result of a bio-psychosocial construct involving physical, personal, and environmental factors, and recognises that disability is a natural part of diversity that should be respected and supported by society. It is estimated that 15% of the world‘s population are considered to have some type of disability and many of these people live in developing countries. People with disabilities (PWDs) have experienced marginalisation on many levels which has resulted in limited opportunities for participation in society. Although laws and policies have been formulated to address disadvantages, people with disabilities in Pakistan experience challenges accessing inclusive support and services, particularly in the education system. Modern information and communication technology devices and software can be used as assistive technology to overcome barriers to gaining an education; however, affordability, access, and attitudes are hindering the effectiveness of assistive technology solutions. University students with vision impairments use computers for learning with the assistance of a screen reader, which converts the display of a computer screen into synthetic speech through keyboard commands. Despite the availability of computer screen reading technology, students with vision impairment face difficulties in accessing learning material for studying at the university level. This research is one of the few conducted in the context of Pakistan that has sought to gain student perspectives on this problem. It aimed to discover the perspectives and challenges of university students with vision impairments in Pakistan on the use of Screen-reading software for learning at the university level and to describe challenges faced by the students in the acquisition of Screen-reading software. The research explored the benefits and challenges of Screen-reading software, and identified obstacles faced by university students with vision impairment in accessing learning content and other relevant material using Screen-reading software. A mixed method approach was adopted consisting of an online survey and semi-structured interviews. Forty-six respondents completed the online survey and ten participants took part in the interviews. The majority (97.8%, n=45) of the survey respondents were aware of and used at least one screen reader. Respondents were satisfied with the level of functionality of the Screen-reading software for learning and they considered it to be fundamental in supporting independent learning. Some respondents, such as women, and those from remote parts of the country or from low socio-economic backgrounds, reported multiple learning barriers, such as limited access to computers, software, technical support, and training. However, respondents confirmed that for successful participation it is essential that computer-based learning is accessible. The prevailing lack of support and consideration the respondents received from teaching faculty and administrators at universities is a key barrier for them to succeed independently in their education. Respondents without support of teachers and fellow students experienced difficulties in their education, yet were found to have limited or no awareness of specific disability discrimination policy frameworks and legislation in Pakistan, such as for the provision of Screen-reading software. Thus, they did not feel empowered or supported in demanding equitable treatment or in complaining about denial of their basic rights. The findings of this study identify a need for the establishment of formal disability support mechanisms in universities in Pakistan to eradicate disability discrimination and foster more enabling conditions for disadvantaged students. The study recommends that other challenges identified in this research be addressed through participation of people with vision impairment in policy-making and in the design of Screen-reading software, which will support the promotion of university education in an inclusive and accessible academic environment.

Keywords: Assistive Technology, Adaptive Technology, Special Software for Visually Impaired, Inclusive Education, Special Education, Screen Reading Software

Subject: Disability Studies thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2022
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Belinda Lange