Information literacy skills, alternative format availability and information sources utilization by visually impaired secondary school students in South-West, Nigeria.

Author:Olaopa, Stephen Olufemi


Information plays an indispensable role in the survival of an individual in the society irrespective of status. In that regards, equality in information sources provision is required to meet the needs of the visually impaired users of information since they constitute an integral part of every society. Visual Impaired refers to someone who is blind or partially sighted (NHS, 2006). According to Kirk, Gallagher & Anastasiow (2006), visual impairment is regarded as a disability that falls along a continuum ranging from near normal vision to profound visual impairments (blindness). Obani (2002) defines visual impairment as a collective term describing an aggregation of various forms and varying degrees of visual handicaps, visual dysfunction and vision loss, which range from slight visual and refractive errors, defect in colour blindness, partial sightedness, and low vision to blindness. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (2002) describes persons with visual impairment as people with irretrievable loss of sight. Arditi and Rosenthal (1998) added that persons with visual impairment include persons with partial sightedness, low vision and total blindness.

The World Health Organization WHO (2009) estimates that there are 314 million people worldwide who are visually impaired. Of these, 45 million are blind, of whom 90% live in low-income countries. These figures were justified by Veal & Maj, (2010) who also points out that "globally there are over 314 million visually impaired people: 45 million of them are totally blind". Visual impairment is a worldwide disability problem, which has been seen as a "global public health problem". Various researchers in Nigeria had reported blindness prevalence rates of between 0.9 and 1.3% (Adeoye, 1996; Gilbert, 2001; Gilbert & Foster, 2001; Rabiu, 2001; Farber, 2003) in different regions of the country.

The students with visual impairment are characterized with inability to use traditional print materials and as such they are forced to locate alternative means of accessing academic information. A study on the use of alternative formats by Canadian college students with print disabilities (Anne, 2000) revealed that 56% of the students use tape recording frequently, 31% use large prints and 19% use braille frequently. Taped books were the most popular for students. There has always been a small but important demand for braille by borrower or buyers from other agencies (National Library of Canada, 1996). Gatz (2003) envisaged that majority of users of talking books, are visually impaired people who generally have no other way to read unless they read braille; even though not many people do read braille. Adetoro (2009) posits that persons with visual impairment just like the sighted need to acquire information, but such information will only be useful when they come in alternative formats or reading materials that have been converted into useful formats for those with print disabilities. Nielsen and Irvall (2005) declare that students with disabilities must have equitable access to the library and its facilities. To this end, Suamure and Given (2004) were of the view that blind and partially sighted post-secondary students must access the materials that they need for their studies in the context of their disability. Pansida (1991) in his survey on the condition in Thailand reported that most textbooks in braille and other formats are produced for primary and secondary schools according to the curriculum of the Mini stry of Educati on.

Libraries and librarians provide access to essential information that people need to participate in the emerging information society. Therefore, they have a moral obligation to make information available to all categories of users regardless of their gender, age, race, political affiliation or disability. Such inclusive, non discriminatory service however still remains the ideal rather than the norm as some people remain underserved in terms of access to information (Babalola and Haliso, 2011). It is generally believed that because persons with visual impairment have the same human composition as sighted people; their reading interest and information needs are likely to be similar (Adetoro, 2009). To this end, Owen (2000) submitted that persons with visual impairment have the same library and information needs as everyone else except that they may require some adaptation. In virtually all countries, it has been realised that persons with visual impairment (PVI) need information as much as sighted persons (Adetoro, 2009). Person with visual impairment need information to function effectively as human beings and this is why the advocacy for equal access to information for persons with visual impairment has been on the ascendancy in recent time (Adetoro, 2009).

American Library Association ALA (2008) conceptualised information literacy skills as a set of abilities that enable individuals to "recognise when information is needed and have the ability to locate evaluate and use effectively the needed information. According to them an information literate individual is able to: determine the information needed; access the needed information effectively and efficiently; evaluate information and its sources critically; incorporate selected information into ones knowledge base and use information effectively to accomplish a special purpose (ALA, 2008).

Wong (2008) in a study on improving literacy of the visually impaired in Singapore reported that the issue of literacy concerning the visually impaired requires additional consideration given that the nature of visual impairment impacts the medium of reading and writing resulting necessary medications in order to access information. Wong added that where literacy for the sighted person is taken to mean ability to read and write via print, what constitutes reading and writing for the visually impaired involves multiple modalities.

Saumure & Given, (2004) reported that since the visually impaired persons cannot use the traditional print materials and must use alternative means of accessing academic information (Braille, audio books and electronic documents) which in most cases are not readily available, the blind and visually impaired students can be regarded as marginalized in their information seeking. The empirical studies of information needs, information behaviour and library use of blind and visually impaired persons (and students in particular) are still very rare (Williamson, Schauder & Bow, 2000; Davies, 2007). Saumure & Given, (2004) examined the information behaviour of visually impaired students in Canada, with special emphasis on the adaptive technology (2004). The use of assistive technology by visually impaired students in their academic work and information seeking has been studied by several authors who found out that technology plays an important role in the information behaviour of visually impaired persons (Corn & Wall, 2002; Abner & Lahm, 2002).

In a study on exploration of academic information seeking and library use of the blind and visually impaired students in Croatia, Sehic and Tanackovic (2013) envisaged that although development of adaptive technology and the rise of information in electronic format (and Internet in particular) has largely improved their independence and increased the opportunities of the visually impaired persons to locate and use information, more studies are needed to gain deeper understanding of how students with visual impairment locate and access academic information. The role of information literacy skills in the utilisation of information resources of any formats by information users could not be overemphasised.

The peculiar nature of the visually impaired persons deprived them opportunities of utilizing the conventional information resources except the materials are transcribed into alternative formats, Adetoro (2009) was of the view that availability of information materials for the use of persons with visual impairment in many countries is premised on equal access with the sighted, though what is available world over is a far cry from the desired. Brazier (2003) and Brunson (2005) have evidence that availability of information materials for use of visually impaired in advanced countries is grossly inadequate.

Information forms the basic requirement for every human activity and it is as important as food, air and water. Information in itself has no value, but its value lies in its communication and use. Sasikala & Dhanraju (2011) were of the view that information literacy is a necessary skill that is utilitarian in every aspect of a person's life. For students, information literacy skills would lead to independent and student-centred learning, rather than dependence on the teacher to provide answers to questions or problems that they encounter. Jayaprakash and Gupta, (2005) defined Information Literacy by characterizing information literate person: one who has the analytical and critical skills to formulate research questions and evaluate results and the skills to search for and access a variety of information types in order to meet his or her information needs" Dhiman (2006) reiterates that the need of information literacy may be essential due to the following reasons: rapid increase in the stream of information due to information revolution; advent of information and communication technologies; vast variety of information sources; changing shape of libraries; wide dispersal of information; increase in number of users; and research on complex and interdisciplinary topics.

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