There have been an increasing number of disabled students who are moving from high school to post-secondary education over the last few decades. The enactment of the several laws addressing the education of students with disabilities such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 1990 and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 instigated the rise in disabled students in higher education (Rao, 2004).
The IDEA recognizes postsecondary education as one of the aspects in which the education system should strive to achieve. This means that even the disabled persons have a right to receive postsecondary education. On the other hand, the ADA requires that students with disabilities be given access to postsecondary education just as any other member of the society. Inclusion of the Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act is also an emphasis on the right for the disabled to access higher education (Riddell, Tinklin & Wilson, 2005).
Students with disability increased in institutions of higher education since the above Acts created favorable conditions characterized by equity in accessing education. According to Eckes and Ochoa (2005) there was an increase in disabled freshmen by more than ten percent as from 1991 to 1996. A significant growth in the number of disabled students accessing post-secondary education is also noted by Rao (2004). Rao (2004) indicates that there was a 16 percent increase in the number of disabled persons who had received at least college education as from 1986 to 1994. In 1996 alone, approximately six percent of the undergraduate population was composed of persons with disabilities.
Increase in college enrollment for disabled persons has been recorded in virtually all forms of disabilities. Mull, Sitlington and Alper (2001) for instance report that as from 1976, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of persons with learning disabilities reporting to college. This is also reported as the fastest growing category of disabled college freshmen.
In 1996 for instance, learning disabilities constituted 29 to 35 percent of all disabilities recorded in disabled persons enrolling into colleges. Eckes and Ochoa (2005) highlight some of the disabilities that were recorded amongst freshmen in 1994. These include health impairments, impairments in seeing and hearing as well as learning disabilities.
Despite the fact that there has been an increase in enrollment of disabled students in college, there has also been a concern about a good majority of these encountering difficulties in completing higher education. This is especially in comparison with students who do not have disabilities. According to Mull, Sitlington and Alper (2001), the number of students with disabilities who attain their target degree is always lower compared to students without disabilities.
It is also notable that a greater number of disabled students versus students without disabilities spend more time in the postsecondary program. In one study, Mull, Sitlington and Alper (2001) report that while 80 percent of learning disability students spent more than five years to graduate from postsecondary institutions, only 56 percent of those without disabilities spent such a time. These statistics indicate problems with outcome of higher education among students with disabilities. The experiences of disabled students in higher learning institutions therefore become worth exploring since they are key to effective learning and desirable outcomes.
When addressing the attitudes of faculty towards students with disabilities, it is worth considering and understanding the various disabilities encountered. A definition of disability is therefore an important understanding in this field since it helps in comprehending some of the attitudes that may be encountered in faculties. It is recognized that disability can be defined from a medical and social perspective or the International Classification of Functioning as per the World Health Organization (Mitra, 2006).
In this paper, the medical aspect of disability is considered with physical and mental disabilities taking preeminence. According to Mitra (2006) disability as per the medical model entails an individual having a problem resulting from any health condition (e.g. disease or injury). The disabling health condition is considered as unwanted since it places the individual into “sick” position which requires medical care. The medical model of disability emphasizes of the inability of the disabled person to function “normally”. As such, rehabilitative efforts are mounted to ensure that the disabled person functions as close to normal as possible. For instance, a physically disabled individual may be depending on a wheelchair to move.
According to World Health Organization (2007), disability is defined under the International Classification of Functioning (ICF). The ICF recognizes that some health conditions lead to impairments more so in the functioning of the body. As such, the individual gets limited or restricted to participate in certain activities such as work and education.
Lack of access to education for persons with impairments for instance may be considered as a hindered participation according to ICF. The International Classification of Functioning incorporates social and medical aspects of disability. In addition to identifying medical conditions as causes of impairment, the model also recognizes that the impairment limit an individual’s participation in certain activities, thus bringing in a social inequality (Woodcock, 2009).
The restricted participation is considered as a contextual aspect whereby some factors such as personal background, law and the attitudes of the community may determine the limitation to participate. As such, a disabled person may be limited in terms of participating in education or accessing other social services. This is the reason why Mitra (2006) argues that disabled persons face certain disadvantages similar to those encountered by oppressed minority groups. Among the experienced inequalities is school segregation.
One may be born with certain disabilities whereas others are acquired during day-to-day life for instance due to traumatizing event. Some of the disabilities that students who get enrolled to postsecondary learning institutions have include impaired sight, impaired hearing, impaired speech, impaired health and learning disabilities as the most common impairment. The above impairments are considered as serious and common disabilities compared to mild forms of disabilities which are less common amongst students.
Learning disabilities constitute a myriad of disabilities such as dyscalculia i.e. problems with resolving mathematical computations, dysgraphia i.e. writing difficulties, aphasia i.e. language use problems and dyslexia problem whereby the student experiences problems in reading (Walker & Heffne, 2006). Important to note is that the learning disabilities may be a bit difficult for college tutors and professors to identify in students as opposed to physical disabilities such as a student using a wheelchair. Disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or dyslexia are particularly difficult to detect.
Overview of Americans with Disability Act involving higher education
Disabled persons are part of the society and as much as they are grouped as part of the minority, they are also diversity in the society (Bryan, 2010). Being part of a minority in the American society, they are faced with the potential to be segregated. In response to the need to protect the disabled Americans from discrimination and segregation in terms of access to social amenities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1970. This is a law that has specifically addressed the persons with special needs and the special education has been clearly addressed more so in regard to institutions of higher education discriminating against disabled students. Students with disabilities have been advocated for in the ADA in terms of their access to higher education.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in July 1990 to provide for the access of postsecondary education for students with disabilities (Bryan, 2010). There are several provisions in the ADA including instructions on accommodation of students with disabilities.
One important requirement of the ADA is that the student has the responsibility of the disclosing their disability to the institution’s authorities for them to benefit from the Act’s provisions. According to (Walker, 2006), institutions of higher education are prohibited from enquiring of the disability status of the student by the ADA.
On the other hand, once a student has disclosed their disability status, the institution is supposed to handle the student as per ADA’s provision. According to Title II and III of the ADA, disabled persons are not supposed to be denied access to facilities which are accessible to the public including private facilities (Hernandez, Keys & Balcazar, 2004). As such public and private learning institutions are supposed to provide accommodation for disabled students indiscriminately.
While Title II prohibits discrimination of the disable from accessing public entities, Title III of the same Act adds that disabled persons should not be denied accommodation in private places so long as those entities cab be accessed by the public. Specifically, Title III states that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” (Sullivan, Lantz & Zirkel, 2000, p 261).
In view of the provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the disabled student is put into the mainstream higher education community. The ADA is highly hailed by the disabled postsecondary students since their concerns are highly addressed (Hernandez, Keys & Balcazar, 2004). The attitudes of the general public towards the inclusion of the concerns of the disabled as provided in Title II and III of ADA are particularly hailed. With ADA in place, postsecondary institutions of learning have been made to provide services that support the disabled students to have the best experience during their time in the institution.
Bryan (2010) states that since the enactment of the ADA, postsecondary institutions have been forced to reevaluate their services so as to accommodate the disabled persons as per the requirements of ADA. Most institutions have specifically addressed changes in programs catering for individuals with learning disabilities. If a disabled person has complied with the requirements of the ADA and the institution of learning discriminates the individual, the institution can be sued by such an individual. It is to be noted that ADA is a reinforcement of Section 504 as explored below.