Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Jianping Shen, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Wanda Hadley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Luchara Wallace, Ph.D.


Blind, low vision, online education


Online courses have become a necessity in education. Still, the online learning format, course design, and course management systems are not always conducive for learners with visual impairments. “A key concern is that faculty and individuals accountable for supporting and implementing e-learning within postsecondary institutions, in a rush to integrate technology into teaching, fail to think about the accessibility needs of students with various disabilities” (Fichten, 2009, p. 242).

This qualitative study aimed to describe and interpret the lived experiences of college students who are blind or visually impaired in an online environment. This study involved ten blind or low-vision students enrolled in online courses. Ten semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted, which provided a vivid description of the students’ lived experiences as they encountered barriers, faced complex course content, and benefited from best practices used by instructors in the online learning environment.

The following were the key findings related to the research questions. First, the study found the learning barriers experienced by the participants include course material in inaccessible formats, videos missing audio descriptions, and unavailable maps and diagrams. Second, the research participants stated math and foreign language courses present the most difficulty for students who are blind or visually impaired. Third, creating material in accessible formats, providing accommodations, good communication, and providing content in advance are best practices professors use in an online environment.

This research study aimed to apply the knowledge gained in perfecting and developing proactive interventions to reduce educational barriers for the visually impaired. My research supports a mutual understanding of accessibility needs between the campus community and students who are blind or have low vision. These findings would be applied to the following: (a) advising the university’s Disability Services for Students (DSS) office regarding the acquisition of support services, (b) developing strategies to better prepare faculty for teaching students who are blind or low vision, (c) assisting faculty in gaining a greater understanding of the most effective classroom pedagogy and dynamics in achieving academic success for students who are blind or visually impaired, and (d) hiring staff proficient in assistive technologies.

In addition, faculty who teach in an online learning environment could use the findings to make the environment more inclusive for those students who are blind or visually impaired by (a) establishing a level of comfort in communicating with the student concerning accessibility issues, (b) demonstrating a willingness to create accessible materials and use accessible textbooks and third-party vendors who champion accessibility, (c) encouraging unwilling students lacking confidence, who may be uncomfortable with self-advocating, to dare to try, and (d) being influential in helping foster interexchange of accessible materials and communication among all students (sighted, blind, or visually impaired).

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access