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Dissertation Defense: An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of College Students with Disabilities

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My dissertation defense of An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of College Students with Disabilities

The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the experiences of students with disabilities during attendance at four-year degree granting higher education institutions.

While society has greatly progressed from lifetime institutionalization of individuals with disabilities, the focus now needs to include supporting rights and integrating individuals with disabilities into the community so they may fulfill their ideal roles within society. The benefits of including students with disabilities in the higher education environment reach beyond the individuals themselves. Students with disabilities can achieve success in higher education; society on the whole, however, needs to support their needs as learners.

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Dissertation Defense: An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of College Students with Disabilities

  1. 1. An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of College Students with Disabilities Jackie Koerner Saint Louis University
  2. 2. Why study college students with disabilities? College students with disabilities: • are 2,266,000 of 20,928,000 total college students (Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2012) • typically attend community colleges (Newman, Wagner, Knokey, Marder, Nagle, Shaver & Wei, 2011) • attend any higher education at a rate less than half of their peers without disabilities (Newman et al., 2011; Wilson et al., 2012) • of those who enroll, only 34% graduate from four-year higher education institutions (Newman et al., 2011)
  3. 3. Why this study design? • College students with disabilities often do not to disclose their disabilities to their higher education institutions (Carney et al., 2007; Claiborne et al., 2011; Getzel & Thoma, 2008) • Research available has lacked the voices of students with disabilities (Gibson, 2006; 2012) • Open to any disability so no experience would be excluded
  4. 4. Study Purpose The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the experiences of students with disabilities during attendance at four-year degree granting higher education institutions.
  5. 5. (brief) Rationale While society has greatly progressed from lifetime institutionalization of individuals with disabilities, the focus now needs to include supporting rights and integrating individuals with disabilities into the community so they may fulfill their ideal roles within society. The benefits of including students with disabilities in the higher education environment reach beyond the individuals themselves. Students with disabilities can achieve success in higher education; society on the whole, however, needs to support their needs as learners.
  6. 6. Key Theories • The medical model defines disability based upon the biological fact of the disability (Hutcheon & Wolbring, 2012; Pothier & Devlin, 2006) • The social model focuses on how society is developed around people without disabilities or the “able-bodied” (Camara, 2011) • Gibson’s Disability Identity Development Model (Gibson, 2006)
  7. 7. Research Questions 1. What motivates students with disabilities to attend higher education? 2. How do self-advocacy skills, or the lack thereof, impact the higher education experience of students with disabilities? 3. How do students with disabilities perceive the accommodations they receive at their higher education institutions?
  8. 8. Brief Study Design • Higher education colleagues forwarded study information to student body • Interested parties emailed for more information and interviews were scheduled • Semi-structured interviews of around an hour • Audio recorded, then personally transcribed and coded
  9. 9. Data Collection • Fifteen students responded, nine scheduled interviews • Fourteen disabilities disclosed during the interviews • Ten different academic majors • All face-to-face except one over video call • Notes on dialogue, participant mood changes, and non-verbal communication during the interviews
  10. 10. Data Analysis • Began after the first interview (Merriam, 2009) • Listened to audio recordings multiple times • Read interview transcripts • Aligned interview transcripts with researcher notes • Took excerpts from interviews and coded the data (Merriam, 2009)
  11. 11. Resulting Themes • Identity • self-advocacy, self-worth, goals and motivation • Accommodations • academic life, support from others • Social interaction • Assumptions and stigma • Barriers
  12. 12. Identity • “I’m say, ‘No it's totally cool. I’d like to talk about it and tell you about it.’ It’s part of who I am.” • “They’ll ask a bunch of questions and I don’t mind talking about it.” • “I’m normal. I just learn a little differently and it might take me a little longer to get somewhere.” • “This is who I am. I identify as being dyslexic. It’s not a diagnosis. It’s my identity now. I’m this machine of wanting information. I want to know more about it.”
  13. 13. Identity • “I mean learning to use this gift to my advantage. It's kind of neat trying to figure me out. I really like it.” • “It was all about my battle with dyslexia almost and it’s…I say battle but it’s almost a war because it’s an every day struggle.” • “At first I felt uncomfortable. These are my limitations. Sometimes I’m going to need help.” • “I never considered it a disability. I honestly didn’t know it was a disability until this year.”
  14. 14. Self-Advocacy • “I just took the initiative and emailed the disability center to ask them…I consider myself a self-advocate.” • “I'm a pretty good advocate for myself, but all of this shouldn't be falling to me.” • “I sought academic coaching” • “Every first class I have to be the person who goes up to the teacher and say, ‘Hi! I have a disability. How do you want to do this?’”
  15. 15. Self-Worth • “I was just a good kid. I failed.” • “I was held back. I was belittled by people…I truly believed it. And this progressed throughout my whole entire career…I had no idea what was wrong with me. I’m just the village idiot.” • “I’m still trying to be on that level of, ‘Yes, I can be normal.’ It’s still that acceptance thing of, ‘Yes, you are different. Yes, you learn differently. You can’t just take all of this on at once. You can't be super.’”
  16. 16. Self-Worth • “So, basically I didn’t want to be as vulnerable as that anymore…” • “I know it’s hard to believe, but actually I was smarter than this as far as to get it. I was really down about this class I was really depressed about not being able to make it though like everybody else” • “I am who I am but I can’t help but feeling that I’m not enough.”
  17. 17. Goals and Motivation • “I guess it was natural to continue my education.” • “I never considered not going.” • “It’s always been part of our family to go to college.” • “Growing up in my house it wasn’t really a question of if.” • “I always knew I was going to go to college. It was something I looked forward to forever.” • “Basically higher education was not something many of the people in my family achieved.”
  18. 18. Goals and Motivation • “I enjoy learning and helping people.” • “Ultimate goal is to work in the music industry in some capacity” • Giving back to the community or family • “Graduate and get a career in the teaching field…I want to get my Ph.D.” • “The fact that I will have a career that I know I will be happy with. Forensic science is so cool.” • “I want to communicate how you can help yourself.” • “I want to send robots to space.”
  19. 19. Accommodations • “It just seems very…you're out in the open for this paper to be given to the school…and that stays on file.” • “They said, ’We will give you anything that will help you,’ and I said, ‘Awesome! And thank you!’” • “I wasn’t expecting to have…” (thoughtful pause) “I didn’t know you could get accommodations for anxiety.”
  20. 20. Accommodations • “It’s not about being smart. I just learn differently and it takes me longer to process things…it’s just one of those big frustrations.” • “My mom is said, ‘That should be protected without having to reveal it’s you.’ And I said, ‘That’s not how it works.’” • “You’re not giving me an advantage you’re making it even, but okay….normal people are here (gestures with hands by head) and I'm here (gestures with hands by ribs) trying…”
  21. 21. Accommodations • “Most of them check to make sure I’m registered [for accommodations]…I understand their concerns. There are a lot of students who have motivations for cheating.” • “‘I have accommodations’ and they say, ‘For what? You seem plenty smart. You seem fine.’ They just don’t get it. They don’t quite understand what a disability is.”
  22. 22. Academic Life • “I have to learn day-by-day and the professors here are really, really awesome. They’re very accepting of it.” • “I missed out on a lot of learning there because I would just have to leave everyday.” • “It gets hard at times for me to stay motivated to complete my work or that I should stay in school.” • “I talked to him at the beginning of the semester, and [now] it just didn’t work for him…” • “…it was kind of made clear that these specific accommodations are not things that they can enforce. They’re things they can recommend…because the administration can't control the way a professor conducts their classes.”
  23. 23. Support from Others • “Through me and my disabilities she’s learned how to help her students do better…” • “I as a person have felt really supported by [university] with the resources they have provided me and I’m really grateful for them, but there are so many other people that don’t even know you can seek support.” • “…there is a new academic coach. She is amazing. I really got to build a bond and a connection with her.” • “In the cases where the professors did do that, I’m not sure it was because of the accommodations and that they would have anyway just by understanding my situation.”
  24. 24. Social Interaction • Some said their friends were supportive, others suggested their disabilities created a barrier. • “Even my closest friends seem resentful of it.” • “I hate that that’s my whole personality when someone meets me.” • “I don’t think it’s affected me that much socially. I’m introverted anyway so it doesn’t.” • “It definitely has affected me socially and made me draw into myself a little bit and search very specifically for the people that I think will understand what I am going through.”
  25. 25. Assumptions and Stigma • “My mom and dad sheltered me from that.” • “…they don’t exactly know how to handle it unless they have had contact with that type of person then they don’t know what to say.” • “I think there is this potential where people are like, ‘Oh, you’re the same kind of tired as I am, why don’t you just get up and do it?’” • “They act like it’s not relevant because I don’t look like I’m going to die at anytime. It’s invisible to them and it doesn’t apply to them. And teachers don’t understand either.”
  26. 26. Assumptions and Stigma • “I don’t know why we have to call it mental illness and medical illness when we could just call it all illnesses. Why does it have to be separate?” • “It just depends how comfortable the professor is kind-of-a-thing because if it’s something they barely know anything about, they’re less likely to say, ‘We can make this work,’ and if they know enough they say, ‘We can make it on a trial basis sort-of-thing.’” • “…everyone looks at you differently like you’re a child that needs to be protected or be sheltered or have that helping hand or something.” • “It’s a guessing game and you can burn a lot of bridges by this one statement of: ‘I have dyslexia.’”
  27. 27. Assumptions and Stigma • “‘I have accommodations’ and they say, ‘For what? You seem plenty smart. You seem fine.’ They just don’t get it. They don’t quite understand what a disability is.” • “I feel like it’s just still this fight to [combat] all the studies. People when they think of Autism, they think of Rainman and they don’t think of somebody who is verbal and a fully functioning person.” • “…I’ve had so many negative reactions to it in college that I just didn't want to be singled out.”
  28. 28. Barriers • “I didn’t qualify for any accommodations on the SAT or the ACT…I was asking for was to have it on a computer with larger font so I could type my essay versus write it. That was all I wanted.” • “If it was possible for every university computer to have the dyslexic font and then they could just email the testing center the test in dyslexic font that’d be awesome! I’d love that. It’d make my life awesome! • “Every first class I have to be the person who goes up to the teacher and say, “Hi, I have a disability. How do you want to do this?” And they’ll say, “I haven’t looked at your file yet. Come talk to me after next class.”
  29. 29. Barriers • “Other professors out there say, ‘This is your problem, not mine.’” • “Last semester my chemistry professor, for every test, I had the same struggle. [She would say], ‘It’s a night test. It’s 2 hours. You should finish it in that time. Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine, you don’t need [accommodations] for this.’” (long pause) • “[Faculty] tend to put in short YouTube clips so he’ll think that [captions] are not necessary. And most of those are the animated cartoons that will talk really fast. I’ve talked to him. All the teachers knew that at the beginning of the year but then he just never did anything about that.”
  30. 30. Barriers • “The staff weren’t trained in cross contamination and students were everywhere. I ended up eating out of my microwave for freshman year.” • “I talked to one of the teacher’s about it and she said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know what to tell you.’” • “Almost all of my roommates have been awful.” • “It’s just an inconvenience for them or something.” • “There were all of these extra struggles. I never thought it would be that difficult to have a disability, because it’s not something you can see. It’s in my brain and my brain is just wired a little differently.”
  31. 31. Discussion • Higher education impacts outcomes of students with disabilities • Identity of students with disabilities • Stigma prevents students with disabilities from disclosing • Self-advocacy and transition education for students with disabilities • Campus awareness and sensitivity for students with disabilities • Lack of knowledge about accommodating and educating students with disabilities
  32. 32. Why these results? • Societal perception of people with disabilities • Lack of campus sensitivity training for students • Inadequate preparation of administrators regarding supporting students with disabilities • Inadequate preparation of faculty members to teach students with disabilities • Poor education of the faculty members regarding accommodations at higher education institutions
  33. 33. What should we do? • Promote services available on campus • Sensitivity training for staff and students • Educational component in higher education administration programs • Accommodation and awareness training for all faculty members • Continue learning about students with disabilities
  34. 34. Future Research • Transition preparation of students with disabilities • Lived experiences of college students with disabilities • Students with disabilities who choose to not disclose their disabilities • Examining the experiences of students with disabilities in specific degree programs
  35. 35. Future Research • Experiences of college students with specific disabilities • Students with disabilities transitioning into their careers • Persistence of college students with disabilities • Examine identity development of college students with disabilities (Gibson’s Disability Identity Development Instrument)
  36. 36. References Camara, N. J. (2011). Life after disability diagnosis: The impact of special education labeling in higher education. Educational Policy Studies Dissertations. Atlanta: Georgia State University. Carney, K., Ginsberg, S., Lee, L., Li, A., Orr, A., Parks, L., & Schulte, K. (2007). Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in higher education: How well are we doing?. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, Summer 2007, 35-38. Cheatham, G.A. & Elliott III, W. (2012). The effects of college savings on postsecondary school enrollment rates of students with disabilities. Working paper for Assets and Education Research Symposium. Claiborne, L.B., Cornforth, S., Gibson, A., & Smith, A. (2011). Supporting students with impairments in higher education: social inclusion or cold comfort?. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(5), 513-527. Devlin, R. F., & Pothier, D. (2006). Critical disability theory: Essays in philosophy, politics, policy, and law. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Fichten, C.S. (1991). Thoughts about encounters between non disabled and disabled peers: Situational constraints, states-of-mind, valenced thought categories. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 15(5), 345-369. Fichten, C.S., Robillard, K., Tagalakis, V., & Amsel, R. (1991). Casual interaction between college students with various disabilities and their nondisabled peers: The internal dialogue. Rehabilitation Psychology, 36(1). Getzel, E.E. & Briel, L.W. (2006). Pursuing postsecondary education opportunities for individuals with disabilities. In P. Lehman (Ed.), Life beyond the classroom: Transition strategies for young people with disabilities, 355-368. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. Getzel, E.E. & McManus, S. (2005). Expanding support services on campus. In E.E. Getzel & P. Lehman (Eds.), Going to college: Expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, 139-154. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. Getzel, E. E., Stodden, R. A., & Briel, L. W. (2001). Pursuing postsecondary education opportunities for individuals with disabilities. In P. Wehman (Ed.), Life beyond the classroom: Transition strategies for young people with disabilities (pp. 247-259). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
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