Towards the integration of disabled students in universities

SÁNCHEZ PALOMINO, Antonio (2009)

In this article, Antonio Sánchez Palomino, a lecturer at the University of Almería, Spain, sums up the main findings of a research project on the educational and social integration of disabled students at the University of Almería.

Introduction

 
The aim of this research project was to ascertain, describe and assess the educational and social integration of students with special needs due to disability. It examined the views of the students (abled and disabled), the research and teaching staff, and the administrative and service staff from the University of Almería.
 
 
Current situation in Spain
 
The main resources available to state universities in Spain to cater for the needs of disabled students[1] are as follows:
 
Service provision structures are usually managed by the vice-presidents’ offices for students and the programmes that deliver these services usually form part of a highly structured framework. The institutional support that disability programmes and services receive is diverse, although one widespread feature was that autonomous communities generally provide more funding as social services fall under their remit. In some cases, local bodies also give their support. Units are usually in contact with welfare organisations in the disability sector so that they can ask them for advice and for their help in providing technical aid for disabled students.
 
Grants and subsidies can be divided into support provided by universities to disabled students, such as internships, sign language interpreters and student financial aid, and funding to buy technical support. Positive discrimination admission policies are only regulated in a few cases.
 
The pre-enrolment information about services for disabled students usually forms part of the information provided to the general student body.
 
Other resources include transport grants, adapted sports programmes and provision on the disabled and employment schemes for disabled jobseekers.
 
 
General goal and methodology
 
The general goal of the project was to examine the educational and social integration of students with special needs due to disability. It examined the views of teaching and research staff, administrative and service staff, the general student body and disabled students at the University of Almería.
 
A number of surveys were conducted to collect the information used as the basis for this research. Questionnaires were distributed to the four target groups in this study, namely, teaching and research staff, administrative and service staff, the general student body and disabled students at the University of Almería.
 
 
 
Main conclusions
 
A number of conclusions were drawn from the research. However, it should be pointed out that given the depth and breadth of this study, readers may reach other conclusions not considered below. It is also worth drawing their attention to the replies given in the sections corresponding to open items.
 
In relation to teaching and research staff
 
There seems to be a general consensus with few differences in opinion about the acceptance of disabled students in university classrooms. However, around half of those surveyed felt that they were unable to deal adequately with this group of students. It came to light that proper training was a determining factor in dealing with the disabled.
 
There was a general unawareness about the programme underway at the University of Almería to integrate disabled students.
 
Finally, it became clear that one of the underlying factors to successful integration insofar as the teaching and research staff were concerned depended on whether or not they had received information about disabled students beforehand.
 
 
In relation to administrative and service staff
 
It emerged that members of the administrative and service staff were generally unaware of the specific needs of disabled students. Most of them acknowledged that they needed training in this area. Training is only given to administrative and service staff who are directly involved with the disabled students studying at the University. It was also found that to best cater for disabled students, the involvement of both public and private institutions was needed, which would mean securing collaboration agreements.
 
 
In relation to the general student body
 
This group was generally predisposed to facilitating the access of disabled students to the University. On the whole, students believed that it was up to the University as an institution to provide the material resources and staff required to fully integrate them. They also expressed the view that it should also promote positive attitudes throughout the university community, as this was one of its remits as an institution of learning. Some went so far as to say that there should be a central advisory unit to coordinate disabled students, teaching staff, and administrative and service staff.
 
It was also their opinion that disabled students should have the same opportunities and prospects as any other student. They stood up for equal opportunities, but they were against making concessions to the disabled in terms of the demands made on them to acquire course-related skills.
 
It emerged that there was no age divide among the students to the integration of disabled students. They had adopted a realistic attitude and were quick to point out that the University is not prepared to cater for disabled students. They showed a clear disposition to receiving training in disability-related issues, which was proof of their engagement with integration.
 
There was a good overall acceptance of disabled students by the students as a whole, regardless of the faculty or school in which they were enrolled. In general terms, very few students were encountered who had received information about their fellow disabled students.
 
 
In relation to disabled students
 
Disabled students believe that the University should make the resources available to ensure they are protected against discrimination. It should also make course content accessible to them, as well as adapt methodologies and assessments to meet their needs. To sum up, they believe that there should be an underlying acceptance of human diversity as a human value.
 
Most of these students believe that their disability has not been an obstacle to them completing their university education, and that it is universities themselves that put up barriers that prevent them from gaining access to higher education. They agreed with the idea that the teaching staff should be given specific training to learn how to deal with special needs. There was a general consensus amongst them that it was harder for them than their abled fellow students to complete a course at university.
 
They were unanimous in rejecting the idea that their lecturers should feel sorry for them and give them help just because they were disabled, rather than taking them at face value. They also strongly agreed with the idea that their integration into the University had been accepted by the university community and that they should be taught exactly the same content as their fellow students.
 
The majority claimed that the University had the resources available to make whatever changes are needed to ensure that disabled students are granted access to courses. It was a strongly held belief that the qualifications awarded to disabled students should be a true indication that they have the skills to exercise the profession of their choice. This group also highlighted the need for specific regulations on disabled university students.
 
 
 
General conclusions
 
In most cases, adaptations to provide access for the disabled are limited to breaking down physical barriers, while the breaking down of communications barriers is left to one side.
 
One of the urgent tasks to tackle is to create a favourable climate in the university toward the integration of students with disabilities, because there is great ignorance of the very specific nature of such students. Awareness of their needs with social justice reasons (normalization, equal opportunities) justifies their need. It highlights the need for continuous training of teaching staff and administrative and service staff, specifically focused on the necessities that this group has. We face a great challenge for the university to be addressed, as in other times did the other stages of the education system, with research, knowledge, human and material resources, with a committed law and, above all, from the consideration that it is a social justice issue if we treat diversity as a value in education.

Information from the Universities and Disability Resources Guide, drawn up on behalf of the Spanish Commission of Representatives of Disabled Persons (CERMI) and published by the Telefónica Foundation (Molina Fernández and González Badía, 2006).

About the author

This article forms part of the research report Educational and Social Integration of Disabled Students at the University of Almería, which was coordinated by Antonio Sánchez Palomino and published by the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Disabled Persons (CERMI), the Royal Board on Disability (RPD), the Diversity, Disability and Special Educational Needs (Diversidad, Discapacidad y Necesidades Educativas Especiales, HUM-782) research group and the University of Almería.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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