The disparity between students with and without disabilities has been eradicated in high school completion rates. For postsecondary outcomes, however, it remains substantial. A 2003 report by the National Council on Disability noted that while college attendance for students with disabilities has tripled, these students on average take twice as long to obtain credentials as students without disabilities, and most required disability services.
Barbara Hong wanted to understand how students with disabilities viewed their college experiences to identify issues affecting their postsecondary outcomes. To discover this, she had sixteen students utilizing disability services at a small suburban college journal over 10 weeks about their college experiences.
Hong identified four major themes in the journals: instructors’ perceptions, relationships with advisors, the stress of college, and the quality of support services. First, students often avoided disclosing their disability to instructors out of fear and felt judged for needing accommodations; felt as if instructors perceived them as being less capable; and felt that instructors were insensitive, mistrustful and cynical towards them. Second, most students felt that academic advisors were unresponsive when students requested help, and that they lacked knowledge in advising them regarding coursework. Third, students frequently felt stressed and frustrated due to physical demands or distractions in the classroom and to mental or emotional struggles with accepting their limitations and identities. Finally, negative encounters with the disability personnel assessing eligibility status contributed to some students’ difficulty in advocating for themselves.
Hong concluded that students experience critical barriers and discussion of these will hopefully move higher education administrators to improve service delivery and support for students with disabilities. Appropriate interventions are critical in promoting retention among college students with disabilities.
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Sarah Garcia is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies population health and inequality.