Hewett, R., Douglas, G., McLinden, M., & Keil, S. (2017). Developing an inclusive learning environment for students with visual impairment in higher education: Progressive mutual accommodation and learner experiences in the United Kingdom . European Journal of Special Needs Education , 32 (1), 89–109. https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2016.1254971

Journal Article

Hewett, R., Douglas, G., McLinden, M., & Keil, S. (2017). Developing an inclusive learning environment for students with visual impairment in higher education: Progressive mutual accommodation and learner experiences in the United Kingdom. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 32(1), 89–109. https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2016.1254971


International (non-U.S.); Postsecondary; Visual impairment (including blindness)





Accommodations were not specified, but were broadly discussed. The perspectives of postsecondary students with visual impairments including blindness were investigated; their views of the effects of inclusion initiatives at postsecondary education institutions in the United Kingdom were examined, including the "adjustments" or accommodations being provided, such as for course examinations.


A data sample drawn from a larger project, the Longitudinal Transitions Study in the United Kingdom, 32 postsecondary students with visual impairments participated in a series of interviews. [At least two other reports were also published on this project (Hewett et al., 2015a, 2015b).] Demographic information such as gender (male/female) and other information were reported, including type of secondary school—mainstream or special school, or both—and preferred reading format—standard or enlarged font size, or braille, or electronic. Types of visual impairments included sight impairment with partial vision and blindness. Interviews were also completed with disability services personnel and faculty members in the larger project, with passing mentions in this study.

Dependent Variable

A series of interviews was conducted: (a) at the time of each student's initial application to their higher education institution, (b) immediately after beginning their studies, and (c) at the end of their first year. Interview questions were derived from the research questions on the extent to which each participant's higher education institution in the UK were offering inclusive learning experiences and whether postsecondary programs were equipped to do so. Participants were also asked about their own preparation for participating in inclusive postsecondary education.


Applying a Bioecological Model of Inclusive Education at the postsecondary level (with ideas influenced by Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 2005; Anderson et al., 2014), the researchers attempted to examine systemic conditions needing to be addressed to ensure the inclusion of students with visual impairments in postsecondary education. Participants expressed positive perceptions that accommodated course materials were provided, such as descriptions of visual content. However, the researchers observed that universities have not anticipated needs and designed responses in advance, which have led to barriers for students with visual impairments [Introduction had highlighted the UK Equality Act of 2010 and the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA; 2016) funding, and other policy processes and mechanisms]. At least 25% of participants were unaware of the Equality Act. Participants (about 30%) noted negative experiences with accessing assistive technology tools, even after beginning their first academic year. At least one participant noted having screen-reading technology yet not having been oriented to using it; others indicated that screen-reading was best for reading texts, yet needed braille displays for lecture notes. For course exams, several participants noted that they were administered inaccessible exam forms, did not have timely access to assistive technology, and were not provided the correct amount of extended time. As a whole, attempts were made to compensate for barriers and delays—which had lingered into the timeline of course exams—and students were often provided with extended deadlines in courses for completing work, yet these arrangements created further pressure on students. Some participants reported lower grades than they were capable of, with at least four dropping out of postsecondary education. The researchers demonstrated through examples Bronfenbrenner's concept of "progressive mutual accommodation" and described the process: "while there should be clear expectations of the reasonable adjustments [accommodations] required to be in place and the study skills individual students have, there is also an acceptance that this will develop over time" (p. 108).