The abstract themes that emerged from the data were grouped as two major themes and analysed using specific concepts from the CDT. The major themes included: (a) Institution making decisions on what AT and assistive devices should be provided to students with disabilities; (b) Provision of AT and assistive devices enabling students with disabilities’ learning.
4.1.2. Provision of AT and Assistive Devices Enabling Students with Disabilities’ Learning
It emerged from data that the AT and devices provided by the institution enable students with disabilities’ learning. Similar responses were obtained both from the Disability Right Centre staff members and students with disabilities. One member stated:
We have devices available to students with disabilities; we do have iPads. In addition, students with disabilities have real benefitted from those devises. For example, a student will really benefit from an iPad, because they do not need to carry many books around the campus (Member 1).
Also justifying the usefulness of AT and assistive devices for students with disabilities, a participant added:
We cater for different disabilities and now we have someone who is using a Dragon. It is a computer that you just talk and it types, and the student will not have much of the spelling errors. The computer does the writing for the student (Member 10).
Another participant had the same view about the AT and assistive devices provided to students with disabilities enabling their learning at the institution:
Why people see us as number one, it is because we have been so long in the business of assisting different disabilities. Something new that we have recently got, it is a new device called eye tracker. It is for students with physical and nervous disability, who cannot use their hands to type, who cannot handle a mouse. With this device, a student uses his eyes; a student can control the mouse with their eyes. We spent about sixty thousand on it. It is something new that other universities do not have (Member 4).
Based on responses from the Disability Rights Centre staff members, it is evident that AT and assistive devices that are provided to students with disabilities at the institution make learning easier for them; even those who have severe central nervous system conditions and cannot use their limbs.
In support, the students confirmed that those gadgets are useful in assisting their learning at the institution. In the words of one student:
I have two impairment needs. The other impairment is scoliosis, which is the physical curvature of the spine. I am also partially deaf and because of this, the Disability Unit gave me a voice recorder to use in my lecturers. The thing was, I found it very useful because I did not have enough time to study and transcribe my lecture notes (Student 1).
Another student agreed, and explained:
Lecturers know how to make work accessible. Computers are taking away, helping deaf students a lot more, for example, computers are taking over someone’s head and helping him when writing notes. I think technology helps there (Student 3).
The students themselves, who had a lived experience of disability, thus confirmed the usefulness of the AT and devices they receive at the institution, in terms of their learning. This confirmation by the students themselves cannot be contested.
While both the staff members and the students stated that AT and assistive devices were provided to those with disabilities, there was a contradiction in terms of the adequacy of the provision. Staff members stated that AT and assistive devices were adequate at the institution, while students claimed they were not. A staff member commenting on the adequacy of funding for AT and assistive devices explained:
We are buying more adaptive devices for students with disabilities through the University fund. I am waiting for that student who says there is no fund, to tell us exactly what does he needs that he cannot get. Recently, eight got brand new laptops, some got hearing aids. We are even extending the support to a human resource, I mean an assistant who is paid from Disability Fund. DSA is more than good enough for students (Member 4).
A student expressed a contradictory view:
There was a time that they said we should list the assistive devices that we want, and hey, I listed, after sometime they said they did not have enough for those assistive devices. Many students had asked for assistive devices but the requests were cancelled. I think maybe funding is not enough to cater for everybody with disabilities. I really need resources and assistive devices. Like I need a Braille machine. I will be able to prepare teaching aids (Student 4).
Another student also shared:
The funding covers assistive devices, yes, but assistive devices are very expensive. Like when someone needs a scientific calculator, the Braille one is R4 000-00. Braille machine its R4 000-00. There was a time, I did not have a laptop, I went to the Disability Unit and they told me to go to the Financial Aid office, I went there but I did not get assistance (Student 2).
The contradiction between staff members’ and students’ views about the adequacy of AT and assistive devices reveals that what the staff saw as adequate, students with a lived experience of disability did not see in the same way. The staff were genuine in seeing the provision of AT and assistive devices as sufficient to enable the students with disabilities’ learning. However, for those with a lived experience of the phenomenon, they are not adequate. When AT and devices are not adequate or insufficiently available, it could negatively impact learning because some students may not have access to the AT and assistive devices to help them learn. Also, the institution’s good intention of deciding what AT and assistive devices students with disabilities require to enable their learning could be defeated when somebody without a disability makes these decisions.
According to the students with disabilities and the staff members from the Centre, a variety of AT and devices are provided, including computers with JAWS, Braille machines, Kindles, magnifying glasses, ‘Dragon’ computers, eye trackers and iPads. One of the staff members, who is a technician, explained how some of the AT and assistive devices work:
To some students I have loaned iPads because they need them. We have again have the Kindle, it is a simple device, it is almost like an iPad, a small iPad and it is handy for books (Member, 5).
A student with disabilities who confirmed being provided with a Kindle also expressed the same experience; it enabled her to carry books, which she would not be able to carry because of the category of disability she had. She stated:
They helped me by giving me a Kindle, which allows me to download books and then I do not have to carry heavy books around (Student 1).
While there was a strong indication that most AT and devices assisted students with disabilities’ learning, it also emerged from the students with disabilities themselves that not all of them were assisted in their learning by all AT and assistive devices provided by the institution. Some AT and devices hindered learning in different ways. Students with disabilities shared the problems they encountered with some assistive devices, and said:
The computers we use have screen readers. They have JAWS, but it cannot read signs, Mathematical signs and graphs. JAWS does not read pictures. And Maths also, there are signs JAWS cannot read. Sometimes they teach in PowerPoint but in my case, JAWS cannot read PowerPoint (Student 6).
The student continued to explain how the computers limited her learning:
As I said, learning is not accessible sometimes because they are sending notes on PowerPoint, JAWS does not read PowerPoint, and you miss those notes. In addition, this SAKAI thing, my computer does not read all things that are there, so you have to ask every time, what is happening here. It is good that we are learning through the computers but to us with visual problems, it is not so accessible (Student 6).
Despite more students with disabilities stating that they were enabled in their learning by the provision of the AT and devices, a student with total visual loss was limited by computers with JAWS software that was not sensitive to mathematical signs and PowerPoint. Though it was just one student out of six that confronted limitations, it has a significant impact because this student was not only limited in the area of mathematics but in any learning area where PowerPoint was used.