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Disabled students in Higher Education: taking the path of least resistance (poster presentation)

Laurence Hopkins, Liverpool Hope University


Recent legislation means that it is now illegal to treat a student, for reasons relating to a disability, less favourably than a non-disabled student unless this is justified in order to maintain academic standards. However, research suggests that there are still numerous barriers faced by students with disabilities when they attempt to gain full access to the Higher Education curriculum. This study aims to identify and explore in more detail these barriers by listening to first person accounts from university students with a disability. Much of the previous research had been questionnaire based with very little in-depth qualitative exploration of the narrated life worlds of disabled students. This study uses a methodology that combined life story approaches with a Voice Relational Method (VRM) that had only been used previously to hear the voices of women. One of the other aims therefore of the study is to assess the usefulness of this methodology in terms of listening to the voices of disabled people. A wide range of physical, attitudinal, social, cultural and political barriers faced by these students are described in detail. The students' narratives suggest that disabled students have to work harder in many ways to access the same educational opportunities. It is also shown that the extent to which an environment is disabling can be mediated by a network of supportive relationships. One particular interesting finding is the extent to which students make choices related to courses, modules and tutors using criteria of whether the teaching is inclusive or not. In this way they are taking the path of least resistance and as such are being discriminated against.

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