Trends and Challenges in Serving Students with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Education

Trends and Challenges in Serving Students with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Education

Michael J. Roszkowski (La Salle University, USA), Scott Spreat (Woods Services, USA), MarySheila E. McDonald (La Salle University, USA) and Margot Soven (La Salle University, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4458-8.ch025


The present chapter provides a detailed insight into the challenges faced by higher education institutions across the globe in providing education to students with disabilities. The chapter examines the enrolment pattern of these learners and how this varies with the nature and kind of disabilities. It also identifies the factors that affect the academic success of these learners and suggests measures that can enhance enrollment of learners with special needs.
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Post -secondary education in a college or university setting is a common experience for youth. Approximately 63% of American high school graduates go on to further academic pursuits in such settings (, and the empirical literature has consistently demonstrated that post-secondary education is associated with greater access to more satisfying employment and higher pay (Baum & Ma, 2007; Day & Newburger, 2002). In the past, post-secondary education, however, has not been a routine expectation for persons with disabilities. That state of affairs is changing, partly in response to legislation promoting equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities and in part due to the need by institutions of higher education to maintain enrollment levels in the face of a shrinking number of potential students because of declining birth rates (see Hussar & Bailey, 2013, for college enrollment history and projections for the U.S to year 2021).

Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Egalitarian principles advance the belief that disabled individuals should have equal access to all aspects of life, including education and employment. Laws protecting such rights have been enacted in many Western countries (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990; Canadian Human Rights Act, 1985; Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities (amendment no. 2) Law, 5765 — 2005, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997; Quinn & Waddington, 2009). Although the aim of these laws is to ensure human dignity and equal access for all, there is also an economic incentive intrinsic in these laws. Namely, higher levels of education allow people with disabilities to better integrate into society, obtain gainful employment and reduce the risk of becoming a “burden on society.”

The most comprehensive legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities was implemented by the United Nations with the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which became effective in May, 2008 (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006). The Convention is a result of the United Nations’ efforts over many years to transform the treatment of and attitudes towards persons with disabilities. It reflects the evolution from treating the disabled as objects of charity needing protection to approaching persons with disabilities as subjects with rights who can enjoy lives of active participation in society. Education is one of the targeted areas for equal participation under the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (see The treaty was signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 (including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia), but the United States Senate failed to ratify the treaty in December, 2012. Senators who were unwilling to back the treaty cited the additional regulations it would create. Ironically, it was the Americans with Disabilities Act which became a model for the UN legislation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Disability: any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Physical Disability: any condition that limits the normal physical functions.

Outcomes: the results of any intervention designed to change a skill or a behavior.

Intellectual Disability: a condition characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior which originates prior to 18 years of age. Previously, the term used to describe this disability was “mental retardation.”

Accommodation: a modification of a standard procedure so as to allow an individual with a disability to perform that activity competently.

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