Key Takeaway: Moriña & Biagiotti (2021) have completed a systematic review of literature to identify a number of key personal and external factors that help students with disabilities be successful at university:

  • Personal factors include “self-advocacy, self-awareness, self-determination, self-esteem and executive functioning” 
  • External factors include “family, disability offices, staff and faculty members, and peers”

Identifying these internal and external factors can help universities ensure that they have the necessary resources in place to support students with disabilities. Additionally, knowing these factors can help students with disabilities make informed decisions as to their choice of university. —Matt Barker

Moriña & Biagiotti (2021) from the Universidad De Sevilla identify that there is a move from focusing on facilitating access to education to focusing on improving the quality of learning, and that this shift requires “education systems to guarantee equitable access and permanence, resources, and teaching and learning processes for all.” Although there is improving access to higher education (HE), this has also resulted in challenges with increasing access for non-traditional students.1,2 The result is that university dropout rates are higher among students with disabilities than among other students and that “the former face multiple barriers to staying and successfully completing their studies.”3,4

Kutcher and Tuckwillet (2019)5 identify the following internal factors for academic success: “setting clear objectives, being proactive, knowing how to make decisions and not give up in the face of difficulties, using strategies that can help with the disability itself and believing in one’s abilities.” Moriña & Biagiotti (2021) further cite Gow, Mostert, and Dreyer (2020)6 and Milsom and Sackett (2018),7 who identify “self-determination, self-advocacy, self-awareness, self-discipline, self-esteem and executive functions” as common traits among students with disabilities who are able to successfully finish their studies. Russak and Hellwing (2019)8 in their study added that graduates saw their disability as part of their self-image, one that enabled them to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. 

Additionally, external factors are those that have a source of support external to the individual. Gow, Monster, and Dreyer’s (2020)6 study recognises that support from family and friends is critical. Cotán et al. (2021)9 identify staff and faculty who have provided “support, understanding and compassion” have helped the students be successful. Orr and Goodman (2010)10 recognise that peers help the students set goals and can support access to academic resources. Kutcher and Tuckwillet (2019)5 also identify that “high expectations, accessible campuses, appropriate accommodations and administrative support” are all factors that support academic success for students with disabilities. 

The authors identify six personal factors and traits of students with disabilities who are demonstrating success at university:

  • Self-advocacy
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-determination
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-esteem
  • Executive functioning

The authors also identify five external factors influencing the academic success of students with disabilities:

  • Family support (“moral, financial and social”)
  • The university
  • The impact of disability support services
  • The effectiveness of academic support staff and faculty
  • Peers

Identifying these internal and external factors can help universities ensure that they have the necessary resources in place to support students with disabilities. Additionally, understanding these factors can help students with disabilities make informed decisions as to their choice of university. As the authors note, “when people have a range of personal skills and institutions provide the necessary opportunities, it is possible for students with disabilities to remain and succeed academically.”

Furthermore, the authors note that academic success is dependent “on factors related to the personal, contextual and external environments.” The students in the studies who persisted in their goals saw themselves as having a sense of “freedom and independence.” Disability was regarded as an opportunity to overcome challenges and develop resilience, with the goal of gaining work post graduation. 

Given the six personal factors and traits of students with disabilities who are demonstrating success at university, Moriña & Biagiotti (2021) note the importance of preparing the students in these competences before they attend university, as well as whilst they are at university, since “such competences are essential to access and have educational, social and working success.” Additionally, the authors stress that both disciplinary and personal competences need to be developed, possibly through “active and student centred-teaching methodologies, such as cooperative learning, projects and case studies.”

In terms of university based support, the authors explain that “coaching, tutoring, accommodations and disability services . . . improve the quality of education and enhance the psychosocial well-being of students.” Additionally, it is noted that the application of Universal Design for Learning to offer multiple means of expression, representation and involvement should also be explored as a means to enhance inclusion practices.11 It is thus important for faculty to have training in inclusive practices. 

Summarized Article:

Moriña, A., & Biagiotti, G. (2021). Academic success factors in university students with disabilities: a systematic review. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 1-18.

Summary by: Matt Barker—Matt loves how the MARIO Framework empowers learners to make meaningful choices to drive their personalized learning journeys.

Additional References:

  1. Carballo, R., B. Morgado, and M. D. Cortés-Vega. 2021. “Transforming Faculty Conceptions of Disability and Inclusive Education through a Training Programme.” International Journal of Inclusive Education 25 (7): 843–859 doi:10.1080/13603116.2019.1579874.
  2. Fernández-Gámez, M. A., P. Guzmán-Sánchez, J. Molina-Gómez, and P. Mercade-Mele. 2020. “Innovative Interventions and Provisions of Accommodations to Students with Disabilities.” European Journal of Special Needs Education 1–10. doi:10.1080/08856257.2020.1792715.
  3. Bell, S., C. Devecchi, C. M. Guckin, and M. Shevlin. 2017. “Making the Transition to Post-secondary Education: Opportunities and Challenges Experienced by Students with ASD in the Republic of Ireland.” European Journal of Special Needs Education 32 (1): 54–70. doi:10.1080/08856257.2016.1254972.
  4. Munir, N. 2021. “Factors Influencing Enrolments and Study Completion of Persons with Physical Impairments in Universities.” International Journal of Inclusive Education 1–16. doi:10.1080/13603116.2021.1879959.
  5. Kutcher, E. L., and E. D. Tuckwillet. 2019. “Persistence in Higher Education for Students with Disabilities: A Mixed Systematic Review.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 12 (2): 136–155. doi:10.1037/dhe0000088.
  6. Gow, M. A., Y. Mostert, and L. Dreyer. 2020. “The Promise of Equal Education Not Kept: Specific Learning Disabilities – The Invisible Disability.” African Journal of Disability 9 a647. doi:10.4102/ajod.v9i0.647.
  7. Milsom, A., and C. Sackett. 2018. “Experiences of Students with Disabilities Transitioning from 2-year to 4-year Institutions.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice 42 (1): 20–31.doi:10.1080/10668926.2016.1251352.
  8. Russak, S., and A. D. Hellwing. 2019. “University Graduates with Learning Disabilities Define Success and the Factors that Promote It.” International Journal of Disability, Development and Education 66 (4): 409–423. doi:10.1080/1034912X.2019.1585524.
  9. Cotán, A., A. Aguirre, B. Morgado, and N. Melero. 2021. “Methodological Strategies of Faculty Members: Moving toward Inclusive Pedagogy in Higher Education.” Sustainability 13 (6): 3031. doi:10.3390/su13063031.
  10. Orr, A. C., and N. Goodman. 2010. “People like Me Don’t Go to College: The Legacy of a Learning Disability.” Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research 4 (4): 213–225. https://eric.ed.gov/? id=EJ902542 .
  11. Fleming, A. R., W. Coduti, and J. T. Herbert. 2018. “Development of a First Year Success Seminar for College Students with Disabilities.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 31 (4): 309–320. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1214190 .

Key Takeaway: A number of factors affect the perception of key stakeholders in relation to the fairness of assessment practices for students with learning differences. Elements such as student disability, existing assessment processes, the socio-emotional environment, stakeholders’ conceptions of fairness, and contextual facilitators and barriers to inclusive practices interact to influence the overall fairness factor of classroom assessment. Having an awareness of this multidimensional conceptualization of fairness is helpful in evaluating whether assessment practices are offering equal opportunities to demonstrate learning, and also scaffolds students’ ability to self-advocate for their needs. -Akane Yoshida

“Creating inclusive classrooms has been a justice movement in education,” say Rasooli et. al., and in this paper they seek to fill the void they find in current literature regarding fairness in assessment practices by adding the voices of students with learning differences, their parents, and their teachers to the mix. 

Their paper contributes a framework for fairness in assessment as “a multidimensional concept that is negotiated and navigated in the cyclical and dynamic interactions with classroom teaching and interactions.” According to the authors, this conceptualization is “closely tied with the sociocultural theories of assessment that recognise the social, cultural and economic milieu within which teachers and students interpret and enact fairness in assessment.”

The study methodology describes a process by which data was pulled from open-ended surveys submitted by teachers, students, and their parents from 19 secondary schools across Australia. The questionnaires included such queries as “How was the assessment adjusted for you?” for the student survey, “Do you think this adjustment better allowed [your child] to demonstrate what [they] knew or could do?” for the parent survey, and “Do you think you would adjust assessment differently in the future for this student? If yes, please comment on what changes you would make.” for the teacher survey. Inductive and thematic coding was used by the researchers to identify themes in the responses. Through this analysis, four larger themes emerged: “conceptions of fairness, fair classroom assessment practices, fair socio-emotional environment and contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices.”

Summarized below are the findings in relation to each theme:

  1. Overall conceptions of fairness: Participants expressed equal accessibility for all students as being the greatest determinant of fairness in assessment. Adjustments to assessment practices were thought to be fair when they offered students with learning differences optimal opportunity for success in line with mainstream expectations.
  1. Fair classroom practices: Three sub-themes emerged from the responses as factors that can support or hinder fairness in assessment:
  • Differentiation of the assessment preparation process and design (accessibility of the mode of assessment, clarity in the task format and expectations, as well as the opportunity to prepare for the assessment)
  • Differentiation of assessment settings and environment (provision of a quiet space, additional time and breaks) 
  • Differentiation of assessment scheduling (ensuring that multiple assessments do not occur within a short period of time)
  1. Fair socio-emotional environment: Three sub-themes emerged here as well:
  • Student self-concept 
  • Impact of the learning difference on the socio-emotional environment
  • Relationships with teachers and peers
  1. Contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices: Participants identified school and national-level policies, teacher experience, availability of paraprofessionals and other human resources, class size and parent influence as being the most influential factors in fair assessment.

While the study drew upon participants from a variety of grade levels and learning differences, it concedes that future research involving a larger sample size from a wider range of educational systems would be necessary in order to lend greater credibility to its conclusions. 

Summarized Article:

Rasooli, A., Razmjoee, M., Cumming, J., Dickson, E., & Webster, A. (2021). Conceptualising a Fairness Framework for Assessment Adjusted Practices for Students with Disability: An Empirical Study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 1-21.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida—Akane believes that developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students is key to helping them to attain their personal benchmarks for success. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Key Takeaway: The implication of this review is that a lack of preparation prior to supporting students with disabilities in PE class, particularly those with visual impairments, can lead to indirect and direct bullying of the students by teachers, paraeducators, and peers. As special educators, we must include PE teachers and paraeducators in IEP meetings and ensure they feel prepared to modify and adapt their program for learners with disabilities. —Erin Madonna

Lindsay Ball and colleagues completed a systematic review of the literature around bullying of students with visual impairments in the Physical Education (PE) setting. The purpose of their review was to describe the current experiences of youth with visual impairments in order to develop avenues for future research around issues of bullying in physical education classes. 

For the study, 114 participants reported on their experiences in PE with a broad age range represented due to the retrospective nature of some of the included studies. Ball et al. (2021) oriented their work with the definition of bullying posed by Chester et al. (2015)1 and Stough et al. (2016);2 Bullying is “the intentional behavior to physically or emotionally harm another, which occurs through an imbalance of power.” Exclusion of youth with visual impairment, when done with intention, was considered bullying in the context of this review. The team focused their review around three questions:

  • “What types of bullying are youth with visual impairments experiencing during PE?”
  • “When/how does the bullying take place and by whom?”
  • “What are the outcomes of the bullying?”

Overwhelmingly, this review makes clear just how common bullying of youth with visual impairments is in the PE setting. As they describe the frequency found within the studies they reviewed, Ball et al. (2021) point to the findings of Bear et al. (2015)3 reporting that young people with visual impairments are likely to be bullied twice as frequently as peers without disabilities. Social-relational bullying was by far the most common form found in the reviewed studies, with 86% of studies reporting exclusion, marginalization, isolation, and other forms of discrimination present in PE experiences. Dishearteningly, 93% of studies indicated that the bullying occurred during PE class time with 93% of studies showing peer-to-peer bullying and 50% of studies revealing the bullying was perpetrated by the educators themselves.

While the rate of bullying may appear shockingly high, it is upon review of Ball et al.’s (2021) data where we begin to understand the systematic structures which have allowed for this bullying to persist. “PE teachers are often ill prepared to teach children with visual impairments due to a lack of adequate preparation. This lack of knowledge leads to unnecessary exclusion, both intentional and unintentional, of students with visual impairments from participation during PE.” 

Underprepared educators are unable to create an environment where students with visual impairments are empowered and included. As Ball et al. (2021) point out “efforts made by teachers to promote a climate that is autonomy-supportive are the foundation of positive perceptions of inclusion, according to the perspectives of children with disabilities.”

They even go further to share Jimenez-Barbero et al.’s (2020) recommendation that, “when Universal Design for Learning is utilized in PE, all students with or without disabilities benefited from it. Physical educators can create a climate of acceptance and empathy that fosters participation by all students which may lead to increased self-esteem and decreased bullying of students.”

When considering the outcomes of the bullying experienced, Ball et al. (2021) describe how negative feelings towards physical education can persist through adulthood, often manifesting in the form of avoidance of physical activities. This impact has long-reaching implications for the health and well-being of those with visual impairments. Allowing youth with visual impairments to participate fully in physical education classes, rather than restricting their participation because of a fear of risk, perception of weakness, or other limits has the potential to positively impact their self-esteem. “Autonomy, competence, and dignity of risk are all critical components of an individual’s self-determination, which has a large influence on an individual’s motivation to participate in physical activity.”

Ball et al. (2021) also touch upon the question of self-advocacy as a possible counter-action to bullying. In the majority (86%) of participant responses, no resolution to the bullying occured. There was evidence that when the student with visual impairments ceased to be perceived as an “easy target,” the bullying also ceased. If students with visual impairments are supported in harnessing the power of their own voice, we provide alternate paths to confronting bullying and changing the paradigm that has allowed bullying to persist in PE classes.

It is important to note that this review was limited in part by the fact that not much was known about the participant’s backgrounds or the training of the PE teachers and paraeducators involved. The retrospective nature of some of the included studies may also have resulted in details being forgotten or reported PE practices being inconsistent with current practices.

Summarized Article:

Ball, L., Lieberman, L., Haibach-Beach, P., Perreault, M., & Tirone, K. (2021). Bullying in physical education of children and youth with visual impairments: A systematic review. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 02646196211009927.

Summary by: Erin Madonna — Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of multidisciplinary research.

Research author Lauren J. Lieberman, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Chester, K. L., Callaghan, M., Cosma, A., Donnelly, P., Craig, W., Walsh, S., & Molcho, M. (2015). Cross-national time trends in bullying victimization in 33 countries among children aged 11, 13, and 15 from 2002 to 2010. The European Journal of Public Health, 25(Suppl. 2), 61–64. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckv029
  2. Stough, C. O., Merianos, A., Nabors, L., & Peugh, J. (2016). Prevalence and predictors of bullying behavior among overweight and obese youth in a nationally representative sample. Childhood Obesity, 12(4), 263–271. https://doi.org/10.1089/chi.2015.0172
  3. Bear, G. G., Mantz, L. S., Glutting, J. J., Yang, C., & Boyer, D. E. (2015). Differences in bullying victimization between students with and without disabilities. School Psychology Review, 44(1), 98–116. https://doi.org/10.17105/SPR44-1.98-116