Listening to other voices: Building inclusion of higher education students with disability from the ground up

Cate Rooney


This paper examines the discord that exists between the institutional rhetoric of inclusion in higher education and the complex realities of being a student with a disability. Findings are drawn from a small-scale qualitative study of 28 students with disability studying at a regional university in Queensland, Australia, who reflected on their experiences and views about key aspects of university life, including admissions processes, university services (including disability support), academic engagement, and specific academic policies and processes. Emerging themes present a disparate picture. The biggest barriers faced by students with disability were not physical or based on a lack of access to resources, but, rather, reflected narrow attitudinal and cultural understandings of disability within institutions. Participants also identified student disability services as a key support in navigating wider institution practices that reinforced stigma, inequitable power structures and dominant normative discourses. The paper positions the voices of students with disability as central to critical reflection on policies and practices of inclusion at university. It builds on previous work that has challenged the way in which universities reinforce deficit views of people with disability, arguing for a more unified and socially just framework in which student self-determination rather than deficits are valued.


disability; inclusion; higher education; student equity; access; student voice

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Banner image: Kira Jovanovski (2020), movement score 01 (detail): oil stick and acrylic on paper. Photograph by Kira Jovanovski. Cover image: Kira Jovanovski (2020), grunt_iteration 02 in the boughs and stamped: installation in University Gallery. Photograph by Jedidiah Cranfield. (c) the artist.




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