August 6, 2020

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HKBU’s e-learning tech to help visually impaired students

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Students with print disabilities often face extra challenges in the process of pursuing their education. Fortunately, information technology has gradually improved this situation.

The Hong Kong Blind Union (HKBU) launched the Jockey Club E-Learning For All (ELFA) Project. The project aims to minimise the learning gap between students with reading impairment and typical students by making the best use of e-learning in their academic pursuit.

In 2017, HKBU cooperated with the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and conducted a two-year longitudinal study about the effectiveness of e-learning.

Recently, the research findings were disseminated. The President of HKBU said that persons with visual impairment will be able to broaden their learning horizon and stay close to the ever-changing society via assistive technology.

With the assistance of screen readers, persons with visual impairment can use mobile phones and personal computers to learn and to integrate into campus life.

This longitudinal study aims at finding useful data for information technology experts to develop assistive devices which fit the practical needs of persons with print disabilities.

Recently, HKBU has extended the scope of the project to cater to the reading needs of adults with visual impairment.

The present study focused on people with visual impairment. This study was a two-year longitudinal study with three time-points data collection.

The framework of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was adopted in the present study. A total of 50 participants including primary and secondary school students as well as adults with visual impairment were recruited.

A mixed-method design was adopted, in which both quantitative and qualitative data were collected for examining the effectiveness of screen readers and exploring areas for improvements. The students with visual impairment who participated in this study had already used screen readers for two to three years.

Therefore, their acceptance of screen readers was relatively stable according to the TAM index. In addition, there was a higher frequency and an increasing trend in using screen readers for instant communication among students with visual impairment.

Moreover, students with visual impairment reflected in the focus group interview that they mainly used screen readers in language classes at school. They commented that the use of screen readers could replace traditional Braille textbooks, which could reduce the weight of their school bags and increase their reading speed.

As for adults with visual impairment, more than 60% of the respondents were 60 years old or above. Most of them were first-time users of information technology.

In light of this, they needed to spend more time to learn how to use and adopt screen readers. However, after a learning period of one year, the five domains all showed an upward trend according to the TAM index.

In particular, there was a significant increase in continuance intention, which had increased from 2.7 to 3.6. These adults generally believed that screen readers could help them cope with difficulties in their daily lives.

Programme developers are being urged to consider the compatibility between screen-reading software when developing their software, so as to provide more software for use by people who are visually impaired.

It was also recommended that schools should provide sufficient computers to students with visual impairment for classroom and after school learning.

Two users who are visually impaired also shared how screen readers and e-books had enhanced their learning effectiveness.

Students have expressed that e-learning facilitated them to search for academic literature and produce suitable learning materials. It also helps them keep pace teachers during lessons.

E-learning was also an essential tool in helping students to complete their degrees. Even after graduation, one student still uses the service under the ELFA Project and produced e-books for job-related purpose.

In addition, HKBU also produced e-books other than textbooks for users with visual impairment, which facilitated him to read more extracurricular books.

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