Waterfield, B., & Whelan, E. (2017). Learning disabled students and access to accommodations: Socioeconomic status, capital, and stigma . Disability & Society , 32 (7), 986–1006. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2017.1331838

Journal Article

Waterfield, B., & Whelan, E. (2017). Learning disabled students and access to accommodations: Socioeconomic status, capital, and stigma. Disability & Society, 32(7), 986–1006. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2017.1331838


International (non-U.S.); Learning disabilities; Postsecondary; Specialized setting; Student survey



Specific accommodations were not the central focus, but rather the perceptions and experiences of postsecondary students with learning disabilities about accommodations use and the accommodation process in general. The researchers mentioned various types of academic accommodations in the context of describing students' experiences, including separate testing room for course examinations.


Ten postsecondary students with self-reported learning disabilities were interviewed. Nine were undergraduate students and one was pursuing a graduate degree in Nova Scotia (Canada). Additional self-reported demographics included gender and socioeconomic status (SES), and other factors that participants indicated had an impact on seeking access support. One student identified as transgender and another was an international student.

Dependent Variable

This study was not quasi-experimental and did not have dependent variables per se. The researchers used a semi-structured interview protocol for this qualitative investigation to uncover the meanings that students made of "their experiences of accessing accommodations" (p. 994) in a Canadian university in the maritime provinces. One of the researchers had their own experiences of being an undergraduate student with a learning disability. Open-ended questions inquired about students' "supports—familial, social, educational or financial—in being a student with a learning disability" (pp. 994-995), as well as how their financial circumstances have affected seeking accommodations. Participants' SESs were derived from both direct self-report as well as additional details gathered through a brief demographic survey about parental employment. Verbatim interview transcripts were analyzed and open-coded for themes.


The researchers stated that "the majority of participants expressed dissatisfaction with available accommodations at their university" (p. 1002). The researchers described the impact of students' family SESs, in that participants with higher SES perceived less stigma related to seeking academic supports and accommodations, and reported easier access to and more availability of a broader range of possible academic supports. Further, they tended to perceive university-provided supports as not necessarily helpful, preferring to pay for separate services such as private tutoring. Also, easier ability to self-fund disability diagnosis and re-evaluation permitted quicker and more certain access to accommodations such as separate testing setting. Alternatively, participants with lower SES indicated limited access to re-evaluation of their disabilities, which could also result in no access to university-provided academic services, due to procedural issues. The researchers also indicated that students with higher SES tended to have previous knowledge and familiarity about accommodations-seeking processes—and possibly more development of self-advocacy skills—while students with lower SES were less likely to have such previous experience, and tended to perceive help-seeking as more stressful. These differences also affected students' self-disclosure of disability and need for academic supports to their professors; participants with high SES indicated higher comfort with initiating this process, while low-SES participants indicated difficulties with self-disclosure, such as "fear of discreditation" (p. 999). The researchers described some variation in student participants' experiences with self-disclosure, noting that self-disclosure actions were influenced by, but not fully determined by, student's SES. Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.