LIVED EXPERIENCES OF STUDENTS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS AT SIM UNIVERSITY IN ZAMBIA: A HERMENEUTIC PHENOMELOGICAL APPROACH
This study focuses on lived experiences of Students with Visual Impairments (SwVI) while pursuing their studies at ‘Sim’ University (Pseudonym) in Zambia. Anecdotal evidence from the university records showed that a significantly low number of approximately 0.001 percent of students with impairments in comparison to the recommended 15 percent by the World Health Organisation (WHO) were present at Sim University. Within the 0.001 percent, approximately 70 percent were classified as students with Visual Impairments. The research objectives that guided this study were to: i). Describe the lived experiences SwVI face at university. ii). Explore enablers that empower SwVI achieve academic success at university. iii). Explore disablers faced by SwVI at university. iv). Develop a framework for interpreting lived experiences of SwVI at university A qualitative methodology driven by Hermeneutics Phenomenology research design was applied. In addition, purposive sampling technique was used to enlist seven SwVI to participate in this study. Participants volunteered to voice their lived experiences and clusters of themes emerged thereafter. The themes were generated using the ‘Simui's Hermeneutics Crossword Analysis (SHCA) framework, a product of the current study. Emergent from the lived experiences of SwVI was a host of enablers and disablers that represent their felt worlds while at Sim University. The silent voices expressed their felt vulnerabilities and triumphs, resilience and frustration, while pursuing their studies in an environment favouring and dominated by the sighted. Amidst the disabling environment, five ingredients proved pivotal to SwVI’s academic success namely: (i) positive attitude, (ii) family support, (iii) peer support, (iv) institutional support, and (v) beneficial partnerships. It is clear that the lived world of SwVI had more disabling than the enabling factors. With the exception of a positive attitude, the other four enablers pointed to the ‘dependence syndrome’ on the sighted that SwVI were reduced to within an exclusive learning environment. To this extent, positive attitude was singled out as the most important enabler among others to the success of SwVI at Sim University. The positive attitude showed itself in various ways such as resilience, determination, innovation and self-motivation. Even where the support from the sighted was not available, a sheer determination, combined with resilience and innovation in the face of oppression was enough for SwVI to progress through the academic ladder. Emerging from the study are the ten recommendations three of which are: (i) develop and implement an inclusive policy to guide practice; (ii) involve SwVI in decisionmaking process affecting their academic progression; and (iii) improve on the accessibility to the learning environment and content. In a nutshell, whereas resources are limited in universities similar to Sim University, SwVI carry with them unexploited mental resources that administrators, managers and teaching staff can tap into and devise innovative ways to combat exclusion. If only SwVI can be engaged and consulted in decision-making process, institutions are bound to break-through to multitude of challenges encountered when implementing inclusive education.