Access to Post-Secondary Education and Services for Students with Learning Disabilities: Student, Alumni and Parent Perspectives from Two Ontario Universities

 

Maureen J. Reed, Ryerson University

Tanya Lewis, Ryerson University

Eunice Lund-Lucas, Trent University

 

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Abstract:

Access barriers for students with disabilities still exist despite the fact that there is ample formal protection for their rights. In this paper, we surveyed students and alumni with learning disabilities, as well as their parents, for their perspectives on access to a post-secondary education. The students and parents we surveyed experienced difficulties accessing post secondary education and services, assessment guidelines and accommodations. Students described experiences that reflected that access to education is impeded by their lack of preparation, as well as by the attitudes of teaching staff. Importantly, our study showed that students displayed the inability to advocate for their own needs, as well as poor communication with service providers. Ultimately, we suggest that access to higher education could be improved through institutional outreach whereby stakeholders (students, parents, secondary teachers, secondary guidance) are informed through a coordinated approach between post-secondary institutions and institutional staff and faculty are better informed about learning disabilities.

 

 

 

 

Introduction:

T

he Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial human rights statutes protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to access higher education (The Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2005).  In Ontario, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2001) outlined requirements for institutions to remove systemic, communication, attitudinal and physical barriers to access for individuals with disabilities.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission (2005) reviewed data relating to post-secondary access for individuals with disabilities provided by Statistics Canada and the National Education Association of Disabled Students.  According to these data, access to higher education improves employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities relative to their non-disabled peers.  However, while most Canadian colleges and universities provide services for students with disabilities (Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers, 1999; Reed, Lund-Lucas and O’Rourke, 2003), proportionally fewer individuals with disabilities access higher education than do non-disabled peers.

Students with learning disabilities represent the largest group of students with disabilities accessing higher education (Vogel et al., 1999; The Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2005).  Since no standard criterion for learning disabilities has been identified and validated (Leitch, 1998; Reed et al; 2003; Stewart, 1995), those diagnosed with learning disabilities represent a heterogeneous group of individuals (Stage & Milne, 1996) and as such assessment, accommodation and identification practices vary greatly across post-secondary institutions (Letich, 1998; Reed et al, 2003; Siegel, 1999).  These varying practices can themselves become barriers in access to education.

In light of the above issues, the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers (1999) recommended an examination of practice standards for post secondary disability programmes.  Reed et al. (2003) found that there was general support across Ontario’s colleges and universities for practice standards, yet there was considerable variability between institutional practices.  Fairweather and Shaver (1990) and Aune (1998) explained that post-secondary success for students with disabilities is often hindered by their confusion about service availability prior to admission.  In addition, Fuller et al. (2004) found that those students who had identified helpful services still experienced  difficulties with full participation in their university programmes due to their disability.  Ontario administrators of disability services programmes agree that there are numerous barriers (i.e. funding, resources, staffing) to service provision access for students with learning disabilities (Reed et al., 2003). 

Full access to post-secondary education requires that institutions communicate their programmes to potential students, provide access to accommodations for these students, and reduce barriers to access by educating faculty and staff (Canadian Association for Disability Service Providers; 1999).  The Learning Opportunities Task Force of Ontario (2002) found that students with learning disabilities tend to be more successful in their post-secondary educations when their participation is planned.. However, one difficulty in planning access relates to how the unique barriers and needs of students with learning disabilities are perceived.  As such, we surveyed students with learning disabilities and parents of first-year students with learning disabilities at two southern Ontario universities.  The unique contribution of this paper to the literature is that it highlights stakeholder/client perspectives on higher education access and the difficulties students with learning disabilities had in accessing post secondary education and services. 

 

Methods

Participant recruitment

 

Student and alumni

O

ne of the central foci of this study revolved around current university students. As such, disability services programme administrators at two mid-sized Ontario universities contacted students with learning disabilities. This occurred during the winter school session via email. These students had registered with the administrators’ offices and had been at university for at least one term. These students had been diagnosed with a learning disability prior to their entry into university and were direct entry (from secondary school) students.  None of the students contacted had received an academic degree, and all students were still at university.  In the contact email, students were informed of the purpose of the study.  Participants were asked to click on a URL within the email that connected them to a survey on a secured site.  Each survey URL was coded such that more than one survey submission from the same student/URL would be flagged, although this never occurred. The site did not collect any identifying information on the student (such as name, gender, school or email) to ensure confidentiality.  In addition, in order to protect confidentiality, data on the specific type of learning disability was not collected. 

At both universities approximately thirty-eight percent of students with learning disabilities had auditory/language disabilities, twenty-eight percent had visually based disabilities, twenty-seven percent had organizational disabilities and the remaining had non-verbal or motor-based disabilities (based on the Learning Opportunities Task Force Appendix A categories; 2002). Both universities provided many accommodations for students with disabilities. These included access to a learning strategist, learning coaches, assistive technologies, workshops (e.g. writing, time management), study skills information, peer help, advocacy, exam and test accommodations and writing workshops.  Administrators contacted eighty-two students (twenty-three first-year students and fifty-nine upper-year students (second to fourth year)).  In total, fifty-six students (68% response rate) with learning disabilities consented and completed the survey.  Nineteen students were in their first year and thirty-seven were between their second and fourth years (upper year students).  Our response rate was reasonable given student workloads, and it is in line with other survey studies of students with learning disabilities (Duquette, 2000; Fuller et al, 2004; Greenbaum, Graham and Scales; 1995;1996; Reed et al, 2003).

In order to gain further insight into student responses to our survey, we elected to survey alumni who had also been involved with of the disabilities programmes at these universities.  One of the participating university sites possessed a list of twenty six recent alumni of their programme. They were contacted by telephone and asked to participate in this study. Those who consented provided their email addresses and a survey was sent to them electronically. Only one alumnus did not consent to provide an email for the study and five did not have access to email. Fourteen alumni returned completed surveys.  All alumni had graduated from university within four years prior to contact and all alumni had been identified with their learning disability prior to entry in university.  At the time of the survey, thirteen of these alumni were employed while two were in the midst of post-graduate education.  One alumnus was unemployed. 

 

Parent Participants:

P

revious research into students with disabilities identifies parents as major advocates for their children, particularly when it comes to accessing services at universities. As such, we identified parents as an important stakeholder group to be included in our research. The disability services programme administrators from the universities involved in this study invited parents of sixty-seven new students with learning disabilities to attend an orientation session prior to the beginning of the first term of classes. During this session, this research project was described to attending parents and they were asked to participate.  We advised those who elected to participate to fill out and seal the surveys in a letter sized envelope, and return it anonymously to either a locked drop box or place the sealed survey in a large envelope at the back of the room. 

Overall, forty-one parents of students with learning disabilities participated in this project (61% response rate).  Only one parent per family filled out the survey.  While it is possible that some of these parents were related to the nineteen first-year students from the student sample, the majority of these parents were not related to those in the student sample. However, student data was collected in an anonymous fashion four to five months after the parent data was collected and for confidentiality reasons we did not collect identifying information from these parents (i.e. which student was their child).

 

Design and Procedure

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he content of the student, parent and alumni surveys was developed through general literature reviews, as well as via consultation with staff at two disability services programmes, and through pilot surveys of sixty-two students registered  with disability services programme.  Following this consultation period, we developed the three surveys of our research. The student survey consisted of twenty questions and focused on experiences  gaining entry to post secondary institutions, knowledge of disability services prior to entry into the post secondary institution, and perspectives on accessing admissions, assessment, and accommodations services.  The parent survey consisted of twelve questions regarding experiences in applying to post secondary institutions, knowledge of disability services prior to their child’s entry, and access to admission, assessment, and accommodation services.  The content of the fourteen question alumni survey inquired about knowledge of disability services prior to entry, admissions, the effect of accommodation services, and preparation/access to post-graduate employment/school.  Copies of these three surveys are available at http://www.collis-reed.com/ACCESS_ISSUES_SURVEYS/HEP-2005-Access_Issues_Surveys.pdf or by contacting the corresponding author.

The student and alumni surveys were designed as on-line surveys written in HTML code and submitted to a secured and protected database.  On-line surveys were used so that students could apply assistive technologies to read questions and could solicit help in reading if required.  In addition, both programmes offered to assist students in reading this survey if required (none required this service).  The parent survey was designed as a paper and pencil survey that could be returned via a locked drop box or a sealed envelope. 

The four types of questions in our survey included yes/no questions, multiple choice type questions, behaviourally anchored Likert type questions (1= strongly disagree, 7= strongly agree) and open ended questions by which respondents could comment on their access experiences. 

 

Data Analysis

F

ollowing the collection of the data, we conducted descriptive analyses of the data. Proportion/percentage counts for the ‘yes/no’ questions, multiple choice questions and Likert questions, were completed.  Ninety-five percent confidence around the percentages reported for the student data varied between nine and thirteen percent.  Ninety-five percent confidence around the percentages reported for the parent data varied between eleven and sixteen percent.  For open-ended questions content analyses (by theme) were conducted.  Chi-square analysis determined that there were no significant differences in the opinions of first-year and upper-year students, thus their data were combined. As a result of the small number of alumni participants, survey results from the fourteen alumni participants were offered to support and expand upon the student perspectives.

 

Summary of Findings

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he objective of these surveys was to examine access issues for students with learning disabilities who were entering post-secondary education.  Data were divided into three access areas. These were admissions, accommodations, and post-secondary experiences.  Students and alumni were also asked about issues surrounding workforce access.  While this was not the focus of this paper, responses provided further insights into post-secondary access issues (see also Discussion).

 

Accessing Post-Secondary Education and Services

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ighty-five percent of parents surveyed had helped their child find services for learning disabilities at their post-secondary institution. Sixty-two percent of parents and students reported that they only applied to schools that offered post-secondary services for students with learning disabilities.  Only forty-four percent of students, fifty-four percent of parents, and thirty-one percent of alumni agreed that they had received adequate information of post-secondary services for learning disabilities prior to admission [Mean Likert Rating: 4.0 (neutral) for students; 4.2 (neutral) for parents; 3.3 (somewhat disagree) for alumni].  While the mean Likert ratings for students and parents were neutral, only 14% of students, 7% for alumni and 5% of parents chose neutral as a response option. This indicated that there was considerable disagreement with this statement. 

Parents most frequently learned of these services from university pamphlets (54%), the Internet (46%) and by calling the university (37%), while students most often learned of these services after they arrived at the institution (48%), as well as from university pamphlets (32%).  Students rarely learned of services from the Internet (14%) and it was reported that students did not call the university to find out more about their programmes.  As with students, alumni most often learned of services after arriving at university.  Furthermore, less than thirty-three percent of students, parents or alumni learned of university services from university recruiters, their secondary school guidance offices or from secondary teachers.  Twenty-one students and seven alumni commented on the information they received from post-secondary institutions.  In general, these students noted that their high schools, university recruiters and printed materials from the universities did not provide adequate information about the services available to them.  One student commented that: “People refused to help in any way and said that it was up to us to determine what our needs were and how we learn best.”  Another student said: “The recruiters didn’t know anything about the LD programme and I was told to contact directly.”  As one  student explained, “the recruiters did not mention anything about special needs when they came to our high school.”  Finally, one student stated: “I never heard anything [about special needs] from all other universities that I applied to.  They said that they had nothing that would help me.”

Students and parents were also asked to comment on the level of detail provided about the disability services programmes through the admissions office.  Only forty-eight percent of students and sixty-three percent of the parents felt that the programmes communicated enough details in terms their information sessions and offerings. Student feedback suggested that communications with secondary institutions were lacking, and that staff members working in admissions did not understand their needs. They also felt that preparatory courses for post-secondary education would benefit them. Student comments also indicated that admission procedures could be improved through student liaison visits to secondary schools, and by including information about disability services programmes in their course packages upon admissions. Parents felt that communication through the disability services programme would improve if special admission procedures for students with disabilities were put into place.

 

Accessing Accommodations

P

arent feedback indicated that communications from the university programs could be improved upon. As an example, they commented that prior to admissions, information describing available services could be made available to families.  Parents also stated that they wanted to be assured that once their child entered the post-secondary institution, accommodations would be made available, that is without requiring their efforts and involvment. One difficulty in accessing services was that only fifty-seven percent of students had a recent assessment (within three years) of their learning disability upon entering their post-secondary school.  Only thirty-nine percent of parents stated that requirements for assessment were made clear to them at the universities to which their child applied.  Furthermore, thirty-two percent of students noted that they had difficulties being assessed. These students commented that the process of assessment took considerable time; in some cases it took more than one year to complete the assessment.  The slow assessment process resulted in a delay of accommodation for their disability.  One student stated that: “Although I was registered with special needs form the beginning of university, I was not informed until I came that I had to be assessed again.  Due to this oversight, I was not assessed until my second year and I did not receive the help I needed until third year.” Students suggested that assessment needs should be made clear by post-secondary institutions and completed while students are in secondary school. 

Once assessments were completed, students (75%) stated that their accommodations were easy to access and agreed that accommodations met their needs (74%; Mean Likert Rating= 5.3 (somewhat agree), neutral responses= 7%).  Seventy-three percent of students contributed to decisions made about their accommodations at their post-secondary institution.  Some students who felt their accommodations did not meet their needs commented that accommodations that were recommended through their assessment were not available.  One student stated that: “There are quite a few holes in my accommodations, but it may be my fault for not being loud enough to advocate for myself.”

Students were also asked about accessing services that are available to the general student population.  Sixty-four percent of students and seventy-one percent of parents felt that enough information on general post-secondary resources (i.e. funding, policy) was provided to them.  However, some students (25%) commented that this information was not well communicated to them.  Furthermore, twenty-five percent of parents felt that information updates about general post-secondary resources and disability services would benefit them. 

Forty-one percent of students had used adaptive technologies as part of their post-secondary accommodations.  However, some students commented that the technologies were hard to obtain and at times difficult to switch to.  For example, one student stated that: “ I don’t think I am using them to their full capabilities because a) not enough time to learn the ins and outs of the program and b) the range of possibilities within them.”  However, students also reported that these technologies, once learned, were necessary and helpful.

The post-secondary experience

S

tudents and alumni were asked about their general experiences in accessing higher education, including issues surrounding general difficulties learning, difficulties related specifically to their learning disability, and student advocacy and communications.

General Difficulties Learning

I

n the context of their general learning experiences at the universities, sixty-three percent of students felt generally prepared for post-secondary education upon arrival.  However, fifty-two students commented on issues that were most difficult during their first term at their post-secondary institution. Most frequently, students said that they were unprepared for the workload requirements of post-secondary institutions and that they had difficulties adapting to the post-secondary life-style.  Some students reported that they felt isolated, and that university life required some amount of adjustment. Others reported that they had difficulties dealing with administration (e.g. registration procedures). Alumni most often felt that their poor GPAs made their undergraduate education difficult and their poor GPA was in part due to being unprepared for higher education. 

Difficulties Related to Learning Disabilities

I

n terms of discussing their specific learning needs, fifty-seven percent of students agreed that their professors and teaching assistants understood their needs (Mean Likert Rating = 4.7 (somewhat agree), neutral responses=14%).  Those that felt the professors did not understand their needs commented that the professors did not respect or help with their accommodations.  For example, one students stated: “They have no idea the amount of time it would take me to complete an assignment. They don’t understand how we think or function.”  Some students and alumni felt that the professors did not understand the students’ needs because of poor documentation passed on to the professor. 

Students also reported on the most and least helpful resources from their disability programme in meeting their academic needs. Overall, they felt that counseling and support offered by their disability services programme was most helpful.  In addition, students and alumni reported that learning strategies, accommodations, extra time on tests and a private location to write tests were most helpful in meeting academic needs.  Furthermore, students reported that teachers, teaching assistants and staff who did not understand learning disabilities were least helpful in meeting academic needs.

 

Student Advocacy

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orty-seven students and alumni made recommendations on teaching advocacy to students with learning disabilities.  Most often these students and alumni suggested that students with learning disabilities must be taught to understand both their own disability and their rights.  One student stated that: “The first and foremost important factor for a student is in understanding their disability and what it means to live with that particular disability.” In addition, students and alumni thought that faculty and staff should be taught to understand more about learning disabilities.  Students and alumni also felt that students need stronger social support when advocating and need to be taught to advocate during their secondary years.  Alumni suggested that the disability services programme should work to increase student confidence to clearly communicate their needs.  One alumnus explained: “Students need to be taught that they have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.  They can do excellent work but they need help overcoming problems.  Their strengths are worth fighting for.”

 

Access through Communication

C

ommunication is an incredibly important issue when it comes to adequate service provision in post-secondary institutions. As such, students were asked about their preferences for communication of information from their disability service programme. Students felt that direct communication through email, telephone and in person was necessary.  They also felt that orientation sessions, general meetings, information sessions and packages could help keep students informed.

  Parents believed that access to information about higher education could be improved for students by promotion during the secondary school years. The information that parents deemed helpful included information about the types of services available at post-secondary institutions, how assessments help in deciding accommodations for learning disabilities, what services would be available to their child, what documentation is needed at each institution, and knowledge that their children could access services at each institution.  Parents also would like continued information about services within the disabilities service programme (i.e. assessment, funding, contact information).

 

Accessing the Work Environment

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tudents surveyed in this research study talked about their fears and concerns about finding employment while having a disability. Upper-year students were asked if they felt prepared for the challenges of the work environment. Only fifty-four percent of our respondents felt prepared.  Likewise, only half of the alumni agreed that they were prepared for work (Mean Likert Rating= 4.8 (somewhat agree), neutral responses= 0%).  While student responses may have been in part due to the fact that some of these students were not yet in their last year of study, concerns expressed by students did not generally reflect this issue. Students were concerned about hiding their disability, and felt they lacked an understanding of their own disability, and talked about their concerns about gaining real world experience.  One student stated: “I don’t know how to hide my LD from employers and fear that they will fire me because of it.  In university I had the Access center (disability centre) to give me extra time on an assignment.  Who does that in real life?” Another student stated: “I have no idea what I am capable of.”  A further student stated: “I am still very dependent on people.”  Indeed, these student concerns may be well founded.  Alumni reported that finding employment or accessing further education was difficult due in part to their disability.  One alumnus stated that finding employment was difficult because of: “choosing to no longer use the learning disability designation because I thought it would hinder my success.” Another said: “Should I talk about having a learning disability or not?  I listened to what other people said about learning disabilities and found that it was not in my best interest.”  In fact, only four alumni reported that their employer was aware of their disability and only one alumnus received workplace accommodations, which was extra time on assignments and private workspace. While these concerns do not directly relate to university access, they do reflect the real concern of being labeled and stigmatized.  Thus, such fears may also affect access at the post-secondary level.

To better understand the importance of access in post-secondary service, alumni were asked about the relationship between their post-secondary service access and their work environment.  Eight alumni felt that the learning strategies learned through their disability services programme helped them in their work/further education.  These individuals stated that the learning strategies employed during their post-secondary years helped them to focus on problems and gave them insight into their own disability.  Further, when asked what accommodations best prepared them for their work environment these alumni felt that understanding their own disability, adopting time management strategies, interacting with others and working part-time during school best prepared them for the working world.  Those that did not agree that their accommodations helped with later employment stated that specific accommodations received in the post-secondary environment did not fit into their workplace.

 

Discussion and Conclusions

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he Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2001) is intended to reduce barriers in access to services for individuals with disabilities.  Overall, our study provides insights into and highlights a number of access issues that are specific for students with learning disabilities.  These access issues could potentially affect student post-secondary success.  The students in our study indicated that they  experienced difficulties accessing post secondary education and services, assessment guidelines and accommodations.  In addition, students described experiences that indicated that access to education is further impeded by lack of preparation for post-secondary education, attitudes of teaching staff, inability to advocate for their own needs, and poor communication with service providers.

Almost half of the students learned of services for students with disabilities after receiving their admission. Since many students did not learn of services until after arriving at their institution, it is possible that many of the institutions that students applied to did have disability services, but the students did not check for them.  In addition, it was parents, not students, who more often accessed resources that would help them to find out about services.  Parents often learned of services from the Internet, whereas only fourteen percent of students accessed this resource.  Further, many parents noted that they called the institution to find out about services, while no student reported using this resource.  It is not surprising that secondary students entering post-secondary institutions rely on parents. Torres and Solberg (2001) found that parents were a good source of support during the first post-secondary year and that parent support increases student self-efficacy which in turn affects access.  Given the importance of parents as a support and resource for students with learning disabilities, an examination of communication methods with secondary schools that are inclusive of parents should be initiated.

Many students in the current survey reported that they had difficulties obtaining detailed information about their disability services programme, while this programme information was available in a number of forms.  It is possible that while information was available for students, the students had not yet acquired the skills needed to access this information. As such, it is important not to make the assumption that available information will be accessed by the students, and that students understand the importance of this access.  Many students reported that they did not understand their own disability, thus they may be unable to determine their needs or relate the information provided to their specific needs.  Students may be better served by expanding and designing methods to better communicate programme information and to employ a communications strategy that takes into consideration these disabilities.

In some ways the students in this study are not unlike all other students.  The students in this study felt unprepared for the workload requirements in post-secondary settings.  In their study, Seon and King (1997) estimated that seventy percent of students require remediation upon entry into post-secondary institutions.  Many students have difficulties integrating into the post-secondary environment and this lack of integration can lead to poor academic performance and attrition from the post-secondary setting (Liu & Liu, 2002; Kinder, Reed, Gillis, Arooz & Car-Locke, 2002; Matusky, 2001; Sandler, 2000; Sydow & Sandel, 1998).  While problems in academic integration are common among all students, students with learning disabilities are likely at higher risk for poor academic performance than other students due to access barriers (Fitchen, 1995).  Unlike their non-disabled peers, the success of many students with learning disabilities depends on accessing appropriate accommodations

One difficulty in accessing appropriate accommodations was that half of the students in this study arrived at the post-secondary institution without an up-to-date assessment.  In order to receive appropriate accommodation, service providers must assess needs through an assessment process during the first academic term for these students.  Students complained that assessment during their first semester was slow.  Siegel (1999) and Reed et al. (2003) previously showed that students often showed concern about the timing of their assessments, since assessment requirements, if late, can in turn delay accommodations during the first semester.   Non- current assessment may also reflect communication difficulties between students and programmes.  Students and parents felt that available information was not provided to them about assessment documentation by secondary schools or university recruiters.  Furthermore, while administrators in Ontario assert that they are working towards standardized assessment criteria, assessment requirements still vary between institutions (Reed et al; 2003).  This means that students with learning disabilities need to access documentation information directly from each post-secondary institution they plan to apply to.  This may well add an increased burden on these students.  This underscores the need for standardized assessment criteria.

Students in this survey reported that adaptive technologies were beneficial yet at times difficult to learn.  The learning time for technology represents a barrier in access to technologies for many students.  In this study, less than half of the students reported using these technologies.  This is not surprising since Reed et al. (2003) found that adaptive technologies have not been integrated into general campus settings in Ontario.  While technologies were available to students in this study, they were not integrated across the campuses.  As a result, students were required to work from particular campus locations, which may have also limited their access to these technologies. With this in mind advocacy to integrate technologies across campuses could lead to more exposure and better utilization of these technologies.

Alumni and students were asked about their abilities to advocate for their own needs.  Alumni suggested that in order for this to occur, students need high levels of self-confidence.  Both alumni and students noted that at times they did not understand their disability well enough to advocate and they felt they would need considerable support for this role.  Additionally, students noted that their teachers often did not understand their needs or their accommodations.  Reed et al. (2003) found that self-advocacy was encouraged at most Ontario institutions. At the same time, however, students with learning disabilities may not possess the skills needed to advocate to instructors who do not understand learning disabilities.  Exploring methods to better improve advocacy skills and better educate students about their own disabilities could benefit all students.

While the employment rate among the alumni in this study is encouraging, very few revealed to their employers their disability. Indeed, only one alumni received workplace accommodation.  This is consistent with Greenbaum, Graham and Scales (1996) who also found that very few individuals with learning disabilities disclose their disability to employers.  In their study, participants feared discrimination upon disclosure. The public’s perception of learning disabilities is poor (NEA Today, 1995) and such perceptions may have direct effects on self-efficacy and an individual’s willingness to seek and access accommodations to meet their learning or work needs.  While workplace advocacy is outside the scope of this paper, the results presented here indicate a concern about stigmatization in the workforce.  It is likely that some students fail to access services at the post-secondary level and at work because they fear being labeled.  This suggests that institutions need to better educate students, staff and faculty about learning disabilities.

 

 

Limitations:

O

ne limitation of our study was that it was conducted at only two post-secondary institutions with fifty-six students.  However, we believe that our results are representative of the experience of students with learning disabilities.  This is because the students in this study come from numerous secondary schools and hold a variety of experiences in learning prior to entry into their programmes.  In addition, some of the student comments expand on access issues noted in our best-practices survey conducted with students across Ontario in 2003 (see Reed et al., 2003).  However, we do acknowledge that strong disability services programming is provided at both participating institutions, and even more access issues in institutions that provide fewer services would most likely be found. 

 

Conclusion: Contribution to the literature

Our study is unique in that we provide the perspectives of students and their strongest advocates, parents, on issues that affect their access to higher education.  In order to meet the standards required in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Ontario’s higher education institutions need to further address systemic and communication barriers.  We suggest that access to higher education could be improved through institutional outreach where stakeholders, defined as students, parents, secondary teachers, and secondary guidance  counsellors are informed about post-secondary education through their secondary institutions.  This would require a coordinated approach between post-secondary institutions whereby institutions put forward their requirements for admission, services available, accommodations available, assessment guidelines and contact information in a more cohesive package.  In addition, post-secondary institutions could better improve access if post-secondary recruiters, staff, faculty and administrators were better informed of the services available at their own institutions and better understood learning disabilities.


Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the students, alumni and parents for their participation in this project.  The authors would also like to thank Ron Collis for his continued computer and analysis support.  We would also like to thank research assistant Lauren Weingarten.  In addition, we would like to acknowledge Trent University and Ryerson’s disability services programmes for administrative and resource support.
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Higher Education Perspectives. ISSN: 1710-1530