Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

An Examination of Graduate Students' Perceptions toward Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

An Examination of Graduate Students' Perceptions toward Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Research has examined faculty attitudes towards students with disabilities (SWDs) and accommodations, but little research examines graduate students' attitudes toward SWDs. This project used the ATDP scale to examine graduate students' attitudes toward SWDs. This instrument was augmented with a qualitative, open-ended question that focused on examining participants' opinions about what they need to work with SWDs. Findings indicated that the more contact respondents had with SWDs, the more positive their perceptions. Respondents also indicated a desire for training and for more knowledge about specific disabilities. Findings illustrate the need for disability-related training to equip graduate students to teach diverse student groups.

The number of students with disabilities (SWDs) attending colleges and universities has increased, but it has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in degree completion (Belch, 2005). Students with disabilities have reported a lack of acceptance and a lack of understanding of their disability by faculty, staff, and fellow students. For instance, if a disability is mental, rather than physical, SWDs have experienced disbelief from faculty that accommodations are needed, and a reluctance to provide them. This misunderstanding creates barriers to educational achievement and success (Quick, Lehmann, & Denis ton, 2003). This research explores the attitudes and beliefs of graduate students at a southeastern regional university regarding the nature of disability and the role instructors should play regarding accommodations for SWDs.

In many cases, graduate students are frequently involved in classroom instruction, serving as Teaching Assistants (TAs) or Instructors of Record. In the physical sciences, they also lead lab sections. Teaching instruction for graduate students is often determined by individual departments, which leads to variety on what is emphasized and neglected. At the institution studied, the Graduate School has recognized that graduate students are often ill-equipped to be instructors, responding by creating a course to assist students preparing to teach. However, this course does not provide training on SWDs. This research provides universities with information to create or redesign training for graduate students to properly equip them to interact with and teach SWDs, which will help increase the persistence and retention of these students. It will also aid graduate students, many of whom will end up with academic appointments, become more effective instructors.

Literature Review

Students with disabilities (SWDs) are attending college in increasing numbers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (Raue & Lewis, 2011), 18% of undergraduate students reported having a disability in 2007-08. Students with learning disabilities (LD) comprise the largest subgroup of SWDs. This is due largely to an increase in the number of LD students following a college prep curriculum in high school, an increase in educational technologies that allow students with LD to compensate for weaknesses, and legislative mandates requiring postsecondary institutions to provide reasonable accommodations in areas such as academic programming, examinations and evaluations, and housing (Barnard-Brak, Lechtenberger, & Lan, 2010; Shaw, McGuire, & Brinckerhoff, 1994). Assistive technologies have also made it more feasible for students in other disability categories (hearing impaired, blindness/ low vision, mobility impairments, health impairments) to access institutions of higher education.

Although more SWDs are attending two- and fouryear institutions of higher education, many fail to successfully complete their education (Quick, Lehmann, & Deniston, 2003). Some of these reasons are institutional, such as encountering negative attitudes and a lack of understanding of disability from faculty, staff, and students (Hill 1996; Murray, Lombardi, Wren, & Keys 2009; Quick et al. …

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