Couzens, D., Poed, S., Kataoka, M., Brandon, A., Hartley, J., & Keen, D. (2015). Support for students with hidden disabilities in universities: A case study . International Journal of Disability, Development and Education , 62 (1), 24–41.

Journal Article

Couzens, D., Poed, S., Kataoka, M., Brandon, A., Hartley, J., & Keen, D. (2015). Support for students with hidden disabilities in universities: A case study. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 62(1), 24–41.


International (non-U.S.); Learning disabilities; Postsecondary





This case study sought various information about aspects of support received by a set of postsecondary students; this summary emphasizes "alternative examination arrangements" (p. 30) including extended time, use of a laptop, rest breaks, setting, timing such as different time of day, and technology applications such as oral delivery via screen reading and voice recognition for dictated response.


Seven postsecondary students with non-visible/non-apparent disabilities, including learning disabilities were interviewed. The student participants were all enrolled in coursework toward an education/teaching degree. They self-identified as having learning or organizational difficulties; only some had previous special education programs prior to their postsecondary courses, and not all participants were receiving Disability Service support. University personnel (n=8), including a Disability Service staff member, faculty members, and other staff members, were also interviewed. The case study presented the Australian university's student population data, disability service information, and other contextual information.

Dependent Variable

Study participants -- both postsecondary students and staff members -- participated in semi-structured interviews. Students were asked about learning strengths and challenges, use of formal disability services, and support experiences including their perceptions of least useful supports. Staff members were asked about the needs of students with learning difficulties, and aspects of supporting these students.


Student participants reported various degrees of value about the writing supports available, with some indicating that these were very valuable and others indicating that they were not. After attending an orientation to available supports, students indicated that available services were not necessarily helpful; none of the students interviewed used assistive technologies. Regarding Disabilities Service supports, most student participants indicated that they had not used them "because they perceived [the DS program] to be for students with greater needs" (p. 35). The researchers addressed the issue about deep learning contrasted with support for passing exams, as described by students. University personnel participants commented that many students who could benefit from supportive services had not sought them and that staff would have to encourage students to do so. Staff members also noted that resources were not always available for students to explore potentially helpful assistive technologies with which they were not already familiar. Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.