What College Students with Physical Impairments Say About Discourses of Disability On Campus Open Access
For students with disabilities, inclusion implies more than access as stipulated through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its 2008 Amendments Act. It indicates the idea of a communal experience that attempts to develop a culture wherein the full participation of diverse students is established through proactive decisions and allows them to engage in aspects of campus life "in a seamless and real-time manner" (Huger, 2011, p. 5). The purpose of this study was to explore conversations surrounding disability, as understood by students with physical impairments, in order to make meaning of their lived experiences, the messages they receive, and their interpretations of those messages. Using discourse analysis as both a theory and method (Gee, 2011), seven students self-identifying with physical impairment were asked to discuss their college experiences; what factors impact their decisions regarding involvement; what it means to be "inclusive"; what they feel their institutions do to create and encourage inclusive campuses; and what they think non-disabled peers think of them. Despite interviews designed to focus conversations on social involvement and engagement, participants often gravitated toward their educational pursuits and specific concerns based upon individual disability needs. Students de-emphasized extra-curricular involvement in favor of adherence to objectives for successful academic pursuits, often requiring they weigh the physical and wellness tolls such activities could take on their bodies. Considering how respondents speak of their university experiences, this paper argues the discourses of disability are understood as seriously academic and seriously medical or health related. Further, while participants stated overall positive experiences at their universities, analysis of the conversations revealed encounters with physical access problems and difficulties with interactions and interpersonal relationships on campus. This suggests a deeper complexity to their initial assertions, perhaps highlighting the low expectations students with physical impairments hold toward true inclusion and the degree to which bad has to be sensed as bad enough to reach the level of being truly damaging to their view of the overall experience. Implications for this study are to help the university community--administrators, faculty, and students--understand the decision-making process for students with disabilities regarding campus involvement.
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