High School Teachers' Perspectives on Supporting Students with Visual Impairments toward Higher Education: Access, Barriers, and Success

Article excerpt

The impact of the secondary school experience on success in higher education is not well understood. Researchers have found that most students who entered higher education needed remediation (Kajander & Lovric, 2005), were overwhelmed by the workload (Price, 1993), and were unaware of expectations (Farquhar, 2000). Students with disabilities were often less well prepared for higher education than were those without disabilities (Eckes & Ochoa, 2005; Reed, Lewis, & LundLucas, 2006), and the lack of preparation was both academic and psychosocial (for example, self-efficacy; Reed et al., 2009).

Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial statutes protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to attend institutions of higher education (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2007), statistics have shown that between 22% and 55% of individuals with visual impairments in Canada (that is, those who were blind or had low vision) did not have a high school diploma (Stark & Stark, 2003). Students with visual impairments who graduated high school attended institutions of higher education at about the same rateas their peers without disabilities, but were less likely to graduate (Bardin & Lewis, 2008; Wagner & Blackorby, 1996).

When students with disabilities are prepared for higher education, their academic outcomes are improved (Reed et al., 2009; Reed, Kennett, Lewis, & LundLucas, 2011) and they are better integrated into campus life (Dodge, 1991; Reed et al., 2011). However, universities and colleges offer few transition services that specifically target the unique transition needs of students with visual impairments (Reed, Lund-Lucas, & O'Rourke, 2003). Asa result, the preparation of students with visual impairments for making the transition to higher education is often left to the classroom teachers, teachers of students with visual impairments, and other specialist teachers (such as resource room teachers). It is surprising that little research has focused on the perceptions of these educators on preparing their students for higher education.

Reed et al. (2003) found that although universities and colleges believed they made high schools aware of their disability services, only 17% offered transition courses for students with disabilities and only 30% offered professional development in this area for high school teachers. The lack of professional development for educational professionals may limit their ability to provide advice to students who aspire to attend institutions of higher education.

Understanding the experiences of the teachers on the educational team who support students with visual impairments could lead to more success in these students' transition to higher education. The objective of this study was to examine the perspectives of teachers of students with visual impairments, classroom teachers, and other specialist teachers on their role of supporting students with visual impairments to attend institutions of higher education.

Method

RESPONDENTS

The respondents were 66 teachers and 2 educational assistants from six Canadian provinces and one territory. As per the Ryerson University Ethics Board, all the respondents were informed of the purpose and voluntary nature of the study. The teachers were located in western Canada (41%, west of Ontario, including one territory), central Canada (52%, Ontario and Quebec), and eastern Canada (7%, east of Quebec). Of those who identified themselves as teachers, 33% were classroom teachers, 53% were teachers of students with visual impairments, and 14% were other specialist teachers (resource room teachers and general special education teachers; see the Limitations section).

DISTRIBUTION AND DESIGN OF THE SURVEY

The Ryerson University Ethics Board in Toronto reviewed and approved the project. After approval, we contacted 297 directors of students, communications, and disability services for Canadian school districts or boards, asking them to forward e-mail requests and the link to the survey to teachers who had experience supporting students with visual impairments. …