Reported learning impacts from students dealing with learning challenges or disability in higher educaiton

Year: 2017

Author: Grimes, Susan, Southgate, Erica, Scevak, Jill, Buchanan, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Students with disabilities (SWD) is a group within higher education institutions (HEI) that are little understood both in composition and experience. Research with this group has focused on the barriers and enablers that impact institutional disclosure, and therefore access, to legally required accommodations and support. This focus is aligned with the institutions' need to legally comply with accommodation of disability rather than attending to cognitive needs of students. There is very little research from the perspective of these students around the impacts on learning for SWD in the higher education learning environment.
As part of a larger study on the use of learning supports in an Australian regional university, this paper offers analysis of self-reported learning impacts from the group of domestic undergraduate students who have identified assessment/diagnoses and a learning impact, which would legally qualify them as SWD. The research used the non-deficit language of learning challenge, instead of disability, with the result that students anonymously identified themselves at a rate three times of that recorded by the institution. For the domestic undergraduate respondents who identified as living with one or more learning challenges (n=994) the majority (n=868) explained the impact on their learning in their own words.
This paper explores these reported learning impacts through qualitative analysis of students' explanations. There were five groups of students identified: those living with learning difficulties, ongoing medical conditions, mental health conditions, or physical disabilities and those living with two or more of these learning challenges; each group describing different impacts on their learning. These included an inability to engage with learning at a physical level; an inability to engage at a cognitive level; differences in learning and cognition that identify conflicts with dominant learning cultures in higher education; and the requirement for some to work harder and for longer to achieve learning at the appropriate level. The words of the students are used to illustrate their learning impacts.
The findings presented sheds light on the type of support could be useful to students living with learning challenges in higher education.
Keywords: students with disability, higher education, university, learning.