Interplay between cultural expectations and pedagogy in the lives of women with visual impairments in India—Ethnographic case studies an Indian school for the blind

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Indian cultural expectations of women with visual impairments have undergone rapid change in recent decades. Over just two generations, the practice of abandoning blind girls to lifelong institutional care has been nearly extinguished, and today, Indian children with visual impairments have unprecedented access to schooling and careers. Drawing upon thick description of school settings as well as ethnographic interviews with students, teachers, and alumnae of a school for the blind in Northern India, this thesis explores the relationship between cultural expectations and inclusive education of young women with visual impairments in India. Data collected from interviews and observations indicated that greater access to academic programs has the apparent effect of increasing expectations for this population, shifting their role from care recipients to caregivers. Throughout these shifts, the schooling available to girls who have low vision or blindness has facilitated their fulfillment of contemporary cultural expectations, including their roles in families, communities, and workplaces. This inclusive school for the blind—through formal coursework and informal social learning—prepares students to participate in their social circles as normative members of their gender, visual status group, and other intersectional identities. They are also prepared as members of a collectivist society, in which mutual aid and social responsibility are paramount. This research indicated that in addition to shaping the content of education, cultural grounding has a profound influence on the methods by which students learn these values and aptitudes; within these settings, students were trained to live and learn interdependently. This thesis concludes with potential implications within American schools serving students with visual impairments.

Visual impairment, Inclusive education, Pedagogy, Ethnography, Cultural reproduction, Blindness, India, Stigma, Interdependence, Career preparation