Squires, M. E., & Countermine, B. (2018). College students with disabilities explain challenges encountered in professional preparation programs . Exceptionality Education International , 28 (1). https://doi.org/10.5206/eei.v28i1.7757

Journal Article
Squires, M. E., & Countermine, B. (2018). College students with disabilities explain challenges encountered in professional preparation programs. Exceptionality Education International, 28(1). https://doi.org/10.5206/eei.v28i1.7757


Accommodation/s not specified; Attention problem; Autism; Emotional/Behavioral disability; Learning disabilities; Physical disability; Postsecondary; Speech/Language disability; U.S. context





Accommodations were not specified; perceptions about academic challenges and accommodations at the postsecondary level were investigated. [A related study (Squires, Burnell, McCarty, & Schnackenberg, 2018) was a different analysis of data from this study's participants.]


Data drawn from a larger project came from 45 postsecondary students who self-disclosed having disabilities on a survey; 37 respondents completed a specific survey item pertaining to challenges they encountered, and 21 of them elaborated on their responses with additional written comments. Twelve (12) survey respondents also participated in semi-structured interviews. The respondents were undergraduate (about 67%) and graduate-level (about 33%) students enrolled in eight different professional preparation degree programs at one public university in the state of New York (U.S.).Demographic descriptions of the larger project involving 541 students in postsecondary education, and the subset (n=45) of those students who had reported disabilities, were reported. The sample of 21 survey respondents was reported to have other health impairments (62%), emotional-behavioral disabilities (24%), specific learning disabilities (19%), speech-language impairments (10%), autism (5%), and no response (5%); 29% reported having more than one disability. The 21 survey respondents had various majors such as teacher education (48%), nursing (24%), social work (14%), and a few others.

Dependent Variable

The survey had been developed in the larger project from two rounds of piloting, incorporating feedback from students through written and focus group processes. For the current study, two qualitative data sources were analyzed: (a) 21 written elaborations in response to a specific survey item pertained to challenges they encountered in their postsecondary education experiences, and (b) interview data probing the survey responses further from 12 of the survey respondents. Survey items inquired about internal factors: "such as self-advocacy, relationships with peers, and relationships with faculty" (p. 31), and external factors: "consisting of perception of others, course format, content, assignments, fieldwork, and certification or licensure requirements" (p. 31). Thematic analyses of the written elaborations were completed, and examples and explanations were drawn from the interview data.


Three themes that indicated internal barriers from the written responses to the survey item were: "self-identified lack of skills, presenting a barrier; (b) emotions associated with challenges; and (c) lack of understanding" (p. 32). (a) Students reported that they had difficulties organizing their work and managing their time, in general terms related to completing assignments with deadlines as well as during timed exams. (b) They also found that the challenges elicited difficult emotions surrounding self-advocacy efforts—including worries and fears about possible limits to their success due to disabilities as well as insecurities in relationships with peers and faculty members—all resulting in hesitating to seek academic accommodations. (c) They expressed the stress associated with sensing that faculty members did not seem to understand the students' disabilities, including apparent skepticism that students had disabilities affecting their academic performance; when faculty members recognized the validity of disabilities, they did not necessarily provide accommodations. Students themselves indicated not understanding the postsecondary context including the variation in faculty knowledge of accommodations, as well as unclear expectations of them in a range of course formats especially communication in online only courses. Students reported through surveys and interviews that external factors that presented barriers to success included perceived ineffectual responses from the disability services office when students sought accommodations, including slow speed and limited resources; some described apparent misunderstandings about needs and student preferences and needs for some disabilities such as physical dexterity limitations requiring scanned textbooks. Similar external factors pertained to inconsistency in faculty members' preparation to address a broad range of disabilities such as dysgraphia. These internal and external barriers "converged to create an ineffective learning environment" (p. 38). The authors recommended institutional changes through predictive learning analytics, universal design for learning strategies, and mentoring for students preparing to exit postsecondary education into their professions.