Academic journal article College Student Journal

Students with Disabilities in Higher Education: A Review of the Literature

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Students with Disabilities in Higher Education: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

Higher education in the United States undergoes change in response to modifications in the perceived needs of the society, legislative policies and social attitudes. As a result, the student pool has changed considerably in higher educational institutions, which includes every type of disability. Literature shows that students with disabilities often faced additional challenges in their educational environment. As the number of students with disabilities seeking to complete their college education increases across the country, these additional issues present problems to this emerging population. These students face both physical and attitudinal barriers within the university environment. This article presents a review of the literature about the status of students with disabilities in higher education in the United States.


Individuals with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the United States (McGuire, 1992). The National Council for Education Statistics (1996) reported that in the fall of 1994, over 14.5 million students were enrolled in the nation's higher educational institutions and over 1.4 million of these students (10.3 percent) reported having at least one disability. Forty percent of the 1,400,000 students have orthopedic and neurological related disabilities, and the rest includes learning disabilities, visual impairments, and other physical and psychiatric disabilities (Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1995). The enrollment of students with disabilities is increasing in higher education, due in part to strict federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding right to accessibility, political support, work of disability groups, as well as media coverage (Hirschhorn, 1992).

Students with disabilities have additional needs attributable to those disabilities such as, living on their own and dealing with the disability in an educational environment. The daily life tasks of those of individuals with a disability are more complicated than students without disabilities (Graham, Weingarden, & Murphy, 1991). For example mobility impaired students face architectural obstacles within the school's existing environment. Many of these students continue to encounter problems during their late undergraduate and graduate years (American Council on Education, 1995). Appleby (1994) found that nearly one-half of college students with disabilities seek personal counseling services and suggested that the types of issues related to their transition and adjustment can be quite different from the problems presented by the nondisabled population due to physical and attitudinal barriers.

Review of Literature

The review of related literature is presented in two parts. The first part pertains to changes in higher education in America and legislation related to students with disabilities and the second part pertains to specific studies on university and college environments and students with disabilities.

Higher Education, Students with Disabilities and Legislation

Until the early 1900s, higher education efforts in the United States centered primarily on providing educated clergy and social leaders (Malakpa, 1997). Time and circumstances have proven strong modifiers of higher educational organizations, which now have become more focused on extended educational opportunities and career development issues. This expanded "vision" also has brought an increasingly diverse student body, more extensive curricula, and a greater range of education-related activities and services (Milani, 1996).

Students with disabilities represent one of the groups, which are currently, more active in their pursuit of advanced learning opportunities. Youths with disabilities who had graduated from secondary institutions were three times as likely to enroll in higher education programs compared to their nondisabled peers (Brown, 1992; Gartin, Rumrill, & Serebreni, 1996). …

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