Doctoral Students with Disabilities: Challenges in Academic Programs and Research Methodology

Michelle C Lizotte, Stacy C. Simplican
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 2  •  2017  •  pp. 181-193

Doctoral students with disabilities represent 5 to 10 percent of the graduate student population and, yet, research seldom documents their experiences. We propose a research agenda and methodological approaches that circumvent these limitations, including a substantive focus on universal design to measure graduate program’s awareness of disability, experimental methods to minimize response bias, and ways to redefine disability to improve recruitment of potential research subjects.

Research suggests that doctoral students with disabilities face different challenges than undergraduate students with disabilities and that graduate advisers are pivotal to their success. Existing literature has several limitations, including small sample sizes, a reliance on survey and interview data, little attention to issues of diversity within doctoral students with disabilities, and difficulty defining disability.

This article utilizes a systemic literature review (SLR) in order to describe the current state of both the research and the practice of doctoral students with disabilities.

This paper defines major gaps in the existing literature and addresses potential ways to address these gaps through research and practice.

There are barriers for doctoral students with disabilities at every level of the process, which is not being addressed or remediated resulting in greater disadvantages and decreased successful outcomes.

In this context, practitioners will refer to professionals employed at university disability centers and university faculty. Recommendations include disability awareness and resource training for university faculty and staff. Faculty can maintain open lines of communication with their students and advisees related to disability and accommodations as well as increasing program flexibility.

Research is critically needed regarding the experiences, needs, and outcomes of doctoral students with disabilities. This research needs to come from both the individuals, faculty, and systemic level of higher education.

Individuals with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States. However, this population rarely receives the research, funding, services, and social attention paid to other marginalized groups.

Future research needs to utilize larger scale quantitative studies to obtain reliable data. Longitudinal information would greatly improve the information regarding outcomes for doctoral students with disabilities.

graduate programs, doctoral students, disability, diversity
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