Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Accommodation Strategies of College Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Accommodation Strategies of College Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Introduction

   Just by the nature of it, it's not fun to do ... but I can't
   help it. It takes courage to ask. (Jack, a graduate student
   with cerebral palsy on requesting accommodations)

Individuals with disabilities represent a population of college students that has tripled and by some estimates, quadrupled over the past twenty-five years (Olney, Kennedy, Brockelman, & Newsom, 2004; Palombi, 2000). This population of students has grown dramatically despite being historically underrepresented (Beilke & Yssel, 1999; Shevlin, Kenny, & McNeela, 2004). Legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has been largely credited with the increasing access to higher education for individuals with disabilities, along with advances in assistive and medical technologies (Konur, 2006; O'Day & Goldstein, 2005; Rocco, 2002; Thomas, 2000; Wolf, 2001). Under the ADA, disability refers to a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual. The phrase "students with special needs" can refer to individuals with disabilities but also includes students with other types of special needs such as limited English proficiency or students who may be considered homeless or transient. The ADA of 1990 requires institutions of higher education to provide reasonable accommodations in such areas as academic programming, examinations and evaluations, housing, and recreational facilities. As such, students with disabilities (SWDs) represent an emerging population in institutions of higher education, whose perceptions and experiences of higher education are ultimately shaped by their classroom and other collegiate experiences. Despite these increases in enrollment of this student population, many students with disabilities SWDs however fail to successfully complete their education (Quick, Lehmann, & Deniston, 2003).

Several reasons have been suggested as to why SWDs have been leaving higher education. One reason cited has been a lack of understanding by institutions of higher education for this special student population. Greenbaum, Graham, and Scales (1995) have noted that "the most common institutional barrier cited by SWDs was a lack of understanding and cooperation from faculty and administrators ..." (p. 468). SWDs have reiterated this sentiment, reporting being generally dissatisfied with the level of knowledge and understanding on the part of faculty and administrators regarding their issues and concerns (Hill, 1996; Lehman, Davies, & Laurin, 2000; Wilson, Getzel, & Brown, 2000). In reviewing the extant literature regarding faculty attitudes towards SWDs, Rao (2004) concluded that amongst faculty and staff that there is a "need to be better informed about disabilities and students with disabilities" (p. 197). Thus, from this lack of understanding and knowledge on the part of faculty and staff, the integration of these students into collegiate environments may be considered hindered by stereotypical beliefs and discriminatory practices on the part of both professors and fellow students (Gmelch, 1998).

Despite legislative mandates requiring institutions of higher education to accommodate SWDs along with providing information about disability accommodations, SWDs are not maximizing the services entitled to them. In reviewing the literature, SWDs are not maximizing services in two ways: (1) not seeking these services out, or (2) seeking these services too late. Disability service providers have reported that while 9% of full-time college students report having a disability that only between 1% and 3% of all students actually request disability-related services (Hartman, 1993). Research has suggest that these students may be apprehensive about requesting accommodations, and therefore unwilling to discuss their academic needs (Norton, 1997), or may simply desire to assert a new identity and independence when entering higher education (Torkelson Lynch & Gussel, 1996). …

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