Abstract: Vietnamese Students with Visual Impairments: Their Perceptions of Participation and Meaningful Experiences in College from an Ecological and Social Approach (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

313P Vietnamese Students with Visual Impairments: Their Perceptions of Participation and Meaningful Experiences in College from an Ecological and Social Approach

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Tuyen Bui, MSW, Research Assistant, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Teresa Ostler, Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Background and Purpose:  Education plays an integral part in the lives of individuals, including people with visual impairments. Participation in higher education increases employment opportunities for visually impaired youth, allowing them to have their own income, live independently, and integrate into mainstream society. To achieve this, youth with visual impairment need meaningful participation in higher education. Meaningful participation refers to “the involvement of the student in relevant, engaging, and interesting activities with opportunities for responsibility and contribution” (Hanson, 2012, p.1). Meaningful participation can be implemented when students are given opportunities to actively engage in the learning process (O’Malley & Amarillas, 2011). Students who experienced meaningful participation in school have better educational outcomes compared to students who had lower level of school participation (Jennings, 2003). In college classrooms instructors and accommodations can also greatly affect students’ learning outcomes (Rocca, 2010). However, visually impaired students experience countless barriers that prevent them from fully participating in college life. This study is the first to explore meaningful participation of visually impaired students in Vietnam, a country with a high percentage of visually impaired individuals.

Methods: This multiple case-based study drew on in-depth interviews with 20 Vietnamese college students with visual impairments between ages 21 to 30 on their experiences of participation in college. Twelve participants were males and eight females. All were attending colleges in Hanoi, Da Nang or Hochiminh City. Thematic-style analyses identified dominant and emergent themes.

Results: Two main themes emerged. 1) The participation of visually impaired students in college was at low rungs of the ladder for citizen participation such as non-participation or tokenism (Arnstein, 1969). Visually impaired students were allowed to enroll in college and study together with sighted students, but they were not provided accommodations to be able to fully engage in classroom activities. Moreover, their voices were not critically listened to. 2) Several barriers that prevented visually impaired students from meaningful participation at individual, family, school, and community levels. Individual characteristics (low self-esteem, self-pity, small social network, low adaptation, and communication and self-advocacy skills) affected students’ participation. Poverty, parents’ education and knowledge of visual impairment were family barriers. School barriers included lack of disability support policies, lack of accommodation, lack of awareness from faculty/staff on visual impairment, inaccessible learning materials, subtle discrimination, and social isolation. Community barriers included a lack of disability-friendly transportation, and lack of awareness from the community. 

Conclusions and Implications: Visually impaired students experienced lower level of meaningful participation. To help visually impaired individuals successfully integrate in the mainstream society, interventions need to address different levels of barriers. The post describes how school social workers can cooperate with colleges/universities to implement educational sessions to raise community’s awareness on issues of visual impairment and how education and training can contribute to develop specific disability support policies.