Developing an inclusive learning environment for students with visual impairment in higher education: progressive mutual accommodation and learner experiences in the United Kingdom

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Drawing on the findings of a unique longitudinal qualitative study, this article investigates the experiences of 32 young people with visual impairment (VI) in higher education (HE) in the United Kingdom (UK) to explore how well they were able to participate on their courses. We propose and apply a Bioecological Model of Inclusive HE to interpret these experiences and examine how accommodations were made to facilitate participation. Focusing specifically on ‘curriculum access’, the results highlight the importance of accommodations that are progressive and mutual. The accommodations come in many forms and include: the provision of resources through nationally based schemes (e.g. the Disabled Students Allowance in the UK); the support, adjustments and anticipatory adjustments HE institutions should provide; and the study skills and independence skills individual students should be able to act upon. The findings showed that while the majority of participants reported that their HE institution made some adjustments to enable them to access their course, a lack of anticipatory adjustments created barriers. The most common compensation for this barrier was to provide deadline extensions, often resulting in additional pressure on other aspects of the course. Interviews with university staff highlighted limited specialist knowledge and resources within their institutions to enable accommodations for students with VI and, more broadly, understanding of how to develop an inclusive learning experience. The findings also highlighted expectations made of the learner, particularly being able to explain their required adjustments and having well-developed independent study skills.

The paper has particular relevance to HE institutions in that it provides a model to aid interpretation of their role in creating an inclusive learning experience for students with VI. It also offers a reference point for professionals supporting young people with a broader range of disabilities in considering how best to prepare them for life after compulsory education.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-109
JournalEuropean Journal of Special Needs Education
Issue number1
Early online date23 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • Inclusive education , higher education , visual impairment , bioecological systems theory