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Running head: SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 1

Supporting Students with Disabilities

Dominic L. Hoare Evans

Loyola University Chicago

Introduction to Research Methodology


SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 2

Supporting Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities are enrolling into higher education institutions at a rising rate

each year. Due to this increasing rate of students with disabilities enrolling into higher

education, even though they are still a minoritized group within the student population they are

becoming increasingly more prevalent. With this in mind, having an understanding of how

higher education institutions are responding to this minoritized population, in order to help

promote the enrollment and retention of this student population is important for all student affairs

professionals. This research proposal is going to look at what resources are being provided by

higher education institutions in order to create accessible pathways for students with disabilities

to be successful throughout their higher education experience.

This study is going to begin by looking at some of the relevant literature, which further

explores the resources being available to students with disabilities as well as the importance of

looking more closely at this student population. The literature which has been conducted on

students with disabilities is going to be relevant because many studies have been conducted on

ways in which students with disabilities are being supported throughout higher education, but

there is no one way. This comes down to the issue of the diversity within the students with

disability population. Where there are many different types of disability, which all require

different supporting methods. Higher education is also very different compared to K-12

education, where K-12 is required to provide adequate education no matter what the need is,

where higher education concentrate on providing resources but do not heavily invest in creating

holistic support measures for students with disabilities. Where now that the student is over the

age of 17, they are seen as adults, so the care is now in their hands, where before their support

was controlled by their parents, teacher, or outside support services.


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The proposed study is going to look at the resources being provided by higher education

institutions for students with disabilities. The study is going to be conducted through a mixed

method research procedure. Where the study will be interviewing professional staff that are

working with students with disabilities to find out all the support resources that the institution is

offering, as well as a space to make suggestions as to how they can improve supporting this

student population. The study is also going to be surveying students to find out if they are aware

of the services available to them as students with disabilities, as well as giving options to suggest

further support resources. Through this mixed method research, institutions will be able to

identify what resources are being provided to their students with disabilities, how many of these

resources are being used by students with disabilities as well as identify any gaps the institutions

have in order to best support their students with disabilities.

Literature Review

Through looking at some of the current literature that has bee conducted, we will be able

to see some of the relevant work that can show not only the importance of looking at the

resources being available to students with disabilities but also some of the work that directly

looks at what some of the different resources being provided are. Students with disabilities can

be a difficult population for staff, faculty, as well as students to work with within a higher

education environment. The first step to understanding how to work with this population is to

education as many people as possible about the challenges that these students face and ways in

which we can best support them as an institution. This literature review should help us all to get

a better understanding of the student with disability population and resources that can help a

student with a disability be successful while attending a higher education institution.

Key Terms
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To begin our understanding of the topic, being what resources are being provided to

students with disabilities, it is important for us all to know some of the key terms that were being

frequently used when discussing this student population. Firstly, when looking at our student

population that we are concentrating on supporting, postsecondary students “are those who have

graduated from high school and attend postsecondary institutions, regardless of course level or

span of time between completing high school and entering postsecondary institutions” (Walker,

2016, p. 82). For many of our students with disabilities, the disability is a learning disability,

which can be defined as “any condition that makes learning difficult (e.g., Dyslexia, Autism.

ADHD, and Asperger Syndrome)” (Walker, 2016, p. 82). For these postsecondary students with

disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities, higher education institution are providing

accommodations, where “accommodation is defined in the United States as ‘reasonable

accommodation’ under the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). As it applies to education,

accommodation refers to making existing facilities readily accessible to and usable by

individuals with disabilities” (Black, Weinberg, & Brodwin, 2015, p. 2).

One of the most common accommodations being provided through higher education

institutions are academic support programs, where “academic support refers to activities or

programs offered to support students outside of the traditional instruction (e.g., Tutoring,

Mentoring, Supplemental Instruction, and Communication Advocates)” (Walker, 2016, p. 82).

Another accommodation that much of the literature has looked into implementing is the idea of

Universal Design for learning (UDL), where UDL is a “curriculum that emphasizes the need for

flexibility and encourages faculty to consider a framework for designing courses that provide

multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement” (Black et al., 2015, p. 2).

Through these key terms we are able to have a greater understanding of the student population
SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 5

that this study is concerned with as well as some of the terms that are used when looking at the

resources that are being made available to help support students with disabilities. Overall this

literature will look at the importance of implementing such a study through a social justice lens

where “social justice in an ambiguous and contested term that is evoked in order to address

issues of enhancing participation and eliminating discrimination across various markers of

difference linked to race, social class, and so on” (Liasidou, 2014, p. 120). Students with

disabilities are an oppressed population that have been heavily discriminated against and as a

future student affairs professional it is important to see how this is a social justice issue. By

conducting research to help better support students with disabilities, we are able to help

institutions implement better resources, which will support these students so that they can be

successful within an environment where previously they may not have thrived.

Importance of this research

The topic of this research is to look at the resources that are available for students with

disabilities through higher education institutions. This is becoming an extremely relevant topic

for institutions to be looking at because of the increasing number of students with disabilities

entering higher education as well as the limited resources available, including student, staff, and

faculty knowledge on the population. Walker (2016) conducted a study that looked at the

concerns between academic success, institutional responsibility, and support systems for students

with disabilities. As a result of this study, findings showed that most faculty, and staff lack the

knowledge or skills to be able to work with students with disabilities, and that they need more

support from the institution when it comes to implementing support plans for students with

disabilities. Korbel, Lucia, Wenzel, and Anderson (2011) also conducted a study that looked at

the need for higher education institutions to collaborate with each other to create support systems
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and resources for students with disabilities. Through this study we were able to see how

resources within higher education institutions are lacking when it comes to supporting students

with disabilities and that one of the ways in which higher education institutions can combat that,

is to work together and collaborate with each other to create plans or resources that would help

support students with disabilities within a higher education environment. Liasidou (2014)

looked at how social justice discourse lacks much action when it comes to working with students

with disabilities. Her study concentrated on the need to include more conversation and action

being made by higher education faculty and staff for students with disabilities, who are an

oppressed population and need to be supported. This study also looked at the importance of

implementing a Universal Design model as a resource for helping support students with

disabilities. Through these studies we are able to see how the resources provided by higher

education institutions are minimal when it comes to working with students with disabilities and

that faculty, staff, and students are in need of further training to help support students with

disabilities.

Multiple studies have been done that show how institutions lack the necessary resources

as well as training for their professional staff to be able to successfully implement supportive

resources for students with disabilities. Because of this, one of the important questions

surrounding this topic is about how students, staff and faculty perceive students with disabilities

in context of supporting these students. Gibbons, Cihak, Mynatt, and Wilhoit (2015) conducted

a study that looked at the attitudes of students, staff, and faculty towards students with

disabilities. Their research findings showed that faculty and staff would embrace students with

disabilities into their institution and classroom but that they did also lack the required training to

appropriately support the student with a disability. The study also found that students showed a
SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 7

high level of willingness to have students with disabilities within their classroom, but it did not

talk about their own role in supporting students with disabilities. This study continues to show

the importance of this topic because students, staff, and faculty and willing to work with students

with disabilities but they do not have the resources available to them to successfully support

these students. Along with this, Hye Jin, Roberts, and Stodden (2012) also looked at the

perspectives of faculty on professional development to help improve efficiency when it comes to

working with students with disabilities. This study also showed the willingness for faculty and

staff to implement supportive resources for students with disabilities but that they did not have

the resources available to them. The study also showed how many faculty and staff struggle to

work with students with disabilities and that they require further training to help them gain

greater knowledge on how to best support students with disabilities. Looking more specifically

at student perspectives, Izzo, and Shuman (2013) conducted a study researching the student

perspective on students with disabilities through an inclusive learning environment. The study

showed that students understood the importance of an inclusive learning environment for

students with disabilities. The study also showed that students with high comfort levels felt that

students with disabilities were able to meet all of the requirements expected through a higher

education class. Through these studies we are able to see how faculty, staff, and students are all

willing to help support students with disabilities be successful within a higher education

environment but that they do continue to run into challenges due to the lack or support and

resources. These study also show how students and faculty would be open to changes within

their learning environment to be more inclusive towards students with disabilities.

Having an inclusive environment is another important reason for this research. Where

O’Shea and Meyer (2016) conducted a study looking at the motivations behind students with
SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 8

invisible disabilities to disclose their disability to the institution and then decide to use the

resources available. The study found that the willingness for a student to disclose their disability

came down to the students comfort level with their disability and the inclusiveness of the

institution. Where the study showed how important it is for an institution to be inclusive so that

students who are now adults and are in charge of their own education, would feel comfortable

enough to disclose their disability so that they can get the required support that they need to be

successful. Along with this study, Kattari (2015) also looked at the power dynamics of students

with disabilities compared to students without disabilities. The study showed that through the

right education, institutions could create environments that shift the power balance between

students with disabilities and students without disability to where we have a more inclusive

learning environment within higher education. Meaning that higher education environments can

result in positive outcomes for students with or without disabilities through an inclusive model.

These studies both show the importance of create the right environment within a higher

education institution so that both students with or without disabilities can be successful. Overall

through all of the above literature we can see how looking at the resources being made available

to students with disabilities is an important topic to research. Where students, staff, faculty, and

institutions as a whole appear to be very willing to create inclusive environments for all of their

students to be successful but that they do not have the required resources available to them to

holistically support their students with disabilities. Because of this it is important for us to look

at the resources being made available to these students so that we can build off of them to create

an environment where students with disabilities can be successful.

Current Resources
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Through an analysis of the literature we are able to look at some of the current resources

that are being implemented within higher education institutions to help support students with

disabilities. By looking at these studies we are able to gather a better understanding of the

current resources being used and how successful they are when being implemented with students

with disabilities. Reynor, Hayward, Francis, and Campisi (2016) conducted a study through the

Higher Education Opportunity Act, which looked at the implementation of activities and services

to help promote the success of students with disabilities within higher education. The results of

the study showed that through the implementation of activities and services, such as career

planning and academic support services, students with disabilities can be successful within a

higher education environment as well as after they have graduated. Limitations from this study

include a lack of random selection, but because of the size of their sample, the study represents

how important resources can be when helping support the success of students with disabilities.

One of the major support services mentioned was the idea of academic support or

academic coaching for students with disabilities. DeLee (2015) conducted a study, which looked

at the importance of academic support services at colleges for students with disabilities. The

results of this study showed that the success of a student with a disability is correlated to the

amount of support that the student got from both academic support services as well as disability

support services. The study had some limitations, which included a lack of random assignment

and a limited scope, where the study only looked at students with disabilities who were using the

support services and not looking at students with disabilities who choose not to use the resources

available. But the study is a good example of how students with disabilities can be successful

within higher education if they are given the adequate support services. Mitchell and Gansemer-

Topf (2016) also conducted a study looking at how higher education institutions are responding
SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 10

to the increasing number of students with disabilities. The results of the study indicated,

institutions that were heavily invested in academic coaching were seeing greater success for their

students with disabilities. Even though there was a lack of sample size and no qualitative data,

the study is still a good representation of how academic support services can be used as a good

resource for students with disabilities to be successful while attending a higher education

institution. Griffin, Wendel, Day, and McMillan (2016) also conducted a study, which looked at

using peer support groups to help with the academic success of students with disabilities. The

results of the study showed the importance of using students as a resource to help students with

disabilities be successful within higher education. The limitations included the sample size,

where the study was done within only one institution and with a group that had already built a

strong rapport. Given this though, the study is still a good representation of how institutions can

use their current students as a resource to help students with disabilities be successful within the

classroom. Overall these studies all represent resources that are being used within higher

education institutions to help promote the academic success of students with disabilities.

Through the literature there were multiple other resources that are currently being used

by institutions to promote the success of their students with disabilities. Massengale and

Vasquez III (2016) looked at the use of using online courses as an accessible resource for

supporting students with disabilities. The study lacked a significant sample size but was able to

give insight into many of the challenges that students with disabilities face when given the option

to take an online course. The study shows us an alternative method for supporting students with

disabilities and also shows us how we may need to change the way online courses are

implemented in order to fully support students with disabilities. Another alternative support

resource for students with disabilities was shown through Hamblet’s (2014) study, which looked
SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 11

at how we can help support students with disabilities by implementing certain transitional

support services. The study shows that by implementing certain transitional support services to

students with disabilities, we are able to help promote the transition for these students into a new

inclusive environment that is their to help support them with whatever needs they may require.

Limitations included a lack of sample size and any long-term success data, which would be

useful when looking at the students transition out of higher education. But overall it did show us

how by implementing successful transitions for students with disabilities into higher education

would result in greater success for those students. The final piece of literature, which was

reviewed, was Black, Weinberg, and Brodwin (2015) study on the use of Universal Design for

learning and instruction as a way to implement an inclusive learning environment for the success

of students with disabilities. The studies limitations included a lack of random selection and a

limited number of participants for the qualitative section of the study. But even though further

research needs to be done on the resulting implications of using Universal Design, the study was

a good indicator of how many students with disabilities were achieving success through a

Universal Design model. Where the learning environment was much more inclusive to meeting

their desired needs due to their disability. Overall through the literature we can see that there are

many different resources being provided to help students with disabilities succeed within higher

education. But there is still no concise method across the literature that directs future

professional practice for institutions to best serve students with disabilities. Through this

research we are going to be able to continue evaluating the resources available to students with

disabilities so that they can be as successful as possible while enrolled in a higher education

institution.

Methods
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This study is looking at the current resources that are available to students with

disabilities within higher education institutions. The purpose is to be able to identify which

resources are being used by the institution as well as what resources the students with disabilities

are using. The study is going to be using a mixed method procedure which will involve

interviewing professional staff within the institutions to identify the resources that the institution

is using to support their students with disabilities. We are also going to be surveying the students

to get a greater understanding of which supportive resources are being used, as well as what

other supportive methods are needed to fully support students with disabilities.

Participants

For the interviews we are going to be recruiting staff and facility that work within the

disability services department as well as any staff or faculty that work directly within academic

support services. By concentrating on these staff and faculty members we are hoping to be able

to get direct access to the supportive faculty and staff that are directly working with students with

disabilities. We will be recruiting these staff and faculty members by directly reaching out to

disability support centers as well as academic support centers to see who could interview with us

about the resources that they implement to help support students with disabilities. Limitations

include a very narrow scope, where we are reaching out to a small population of staff and faculty

that work with students with disabilities, there could be other departments that also work on

creating resources for students with disabilities. The knowledge from these participants will also

be limited because they will be working with students who have the autonomy to disclose their

disability and use the resources that are available, and not the students that are not choosing to

use the resources available even if they need the support.


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The survey will be conducted with students who have disclosed their disability. This is

because of confidentiality, where we do not want to reach out to students who may not have

disclosed their disability for any personal reason. We will do this by contacting the disability

services center and asking them to provide us with students who fall under the category of

having a disability. This study will also be limited due to the participants of the study. Where

many of them will already be using the resources provided by the disability services center, but

hopefully we will be able to get an idea of which services are being provided as well as

successfully implemented.

Instruments

For the faculty and staff we will be conducting interviews. Through these interviews, are

purpose is to get an understanding of what resources the institution is offering to help support

students with disabilities. The protocol for the interviews will be that they will be one on one,

hopefully with a recording device so that we can document all of the responses in full. The

questions for the interview will be around the different resources that the institution provides as

well as how the institution is reaching out to their students with disabilities.

The students that will be involved will be asked to fill out a survey. Through this survey

we are hoping to get a larger pool of participants, including students that are not as involved with

disability services as others. The survey will ask about their own disability or rather how they

identify themselves. It will then ask questions about the resources that are being provided

through the institution, resources that they used before entering the higher education institution

as well as any resources that they would like to see provided by the institution.

Procedure
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For the qualitative portion of this mixed method study, I am going to be interviewing

faculty and staff that work directly with students with disabilities. Through the interview process

we are hoping to gather a good understanding of the resources that are being provided by the

institution in order to help support students with disabilities. From these interviews we plan on

quantifying some of the qualitative date, where we would numerically assign the resources that

are being used. By doing this we will be able to gather numerical data on the resources being

described by the faculty and staff so that it is easier to present to institutions when we are looking

at making changes to best serve students with disabilities.

The quantitative portion of the study is going to be done through a non-random post-test

survey that will be distributed to students with disabilities. From these surveys we hope to

gather numerical data on what resources are being used by students with disabilities as well as

what alternative resources could be provided by the institution. This survey will take place

towards the end of an academic year so that the participants have a better idea of what resources

they are using as well as what resources are available.

The limitations to this study include no random selection as well as a very narrow scope.

But due to the population we are trying to gather information on, this narrow scope is necessary.

There may also be some bias, where the faculty, staff, and students that will be participating are

already involved with using disability resources and are open about their disability. With this in

mind the students may already be succeeding within higher education and may not require

alternative resources. Overall this research study should be used to analyze the resources that are

currently being used by faculty, staff, and students, so that we can build off of this knowledge to

create an environment that best supports students with disabilities.


SUPPORTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES 15

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