22 SES 07 C, Student Diversity and Inclusion
This work is one of the few research projects on the international scene that uses the biographic-narrative methodology, as it is ideal to provide vulnerable groups with a voice. The objective is to analyze how students with disabilities would design their ideal university classroom.
These university students face a number of hurdles, including institutional barriers, a lack of information and attention towards those with disabilities as well as excessive and slow bureaucracy. Other barriers appear in the actual university classroom. On the one hand, there are ergonomic barriers (lighting, acoustics, furniture, etc.). However, there are also other hindrances that refer to the faculty, such as the teaching methodology, faculty’s attitude towards disability, adapting the curriculum or the need for training in the field of disability awareness. It is precisely classroom-related barriers that are contemplated in this article; students with disabilities offer a number of recommendations to address such barriers to build an all-inclusive classroom.
On the topic of faculty-related barriers, these could vary to include methodologies, limited use of new technologies, negative attitudes towards disabilities or a lack of training in the field of disability. Along these lines, a number of studies have found that students with disability generally run into problems when adapting and coping with the transition from high school to university.
Indeed, it is also important to note that the barriers faced by some students with disabilities (including lack of faculty-student interactions, obsolete teaching methods and academic concerns about the content and accessibility of subject material), differed very little from those of their non-disabled peers (Fuller et al., 2009; Jacklin, Robinson, O’Meara, & Harris, 2007). This leads the authors of this work to ponder the need to design inclusive course curriculum (Gorard et al., 2006) that benefit the entire student body.
In the light of the difficulties and methodological barriers that students with disabilities face, a variety of studies have found the information and communication technologies could be elements that favor their inclusion into the university system. More specifically, it has been stated that learning with new technologies overcomes physical, transitory and cognitive barriers.
Another critical factor for the success of students with disabilities is the attitude and willingness of the academic staff to implement changes and adapt their curriculum to the needs of these students (Moriña, López, & Molina, 2015).
Another question that appears in most HE and disability research is the need to train the faculty in the specific needs of those with disabilities (Hadjikakou, & Hartas, 2008; Murray, Lombardi, & Wren, 2011). This is why Zhang et al. (2010) pointed out that universities must implement mechanisms that guarantee programmed training for both professors and administrative staff. Within this context, the universal design for learning must be a fundamental topic to be considered in training programs (Watchorn, Larkin, Ang, & Hitch, 2013). The implementation of teaching practices based on the universal design of learning could avoid learning barriers in the future, not only for students with disabilities, but also the entire student body.
Lastly, in this scenario, priority must be given to the voices of the people with disabilities (Liasidou, 2014). Their opinions are especially relevant voices for the development and application of institutional policies, programs and decisions that will affect their quality of life. In short, these students need to be actively committed in such developments and practices (Barton, 2010). From this perspective, this study seeks to understand what the ideal university classroom should be so that it becomes inclusive, but always in the voice of and from the viewpoint of students with disabilities.
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