Skip to main content

Student Suggestions for Improving Learning at University for Those with Learning Challenges/Disability

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Strategies for Supporting Inclusion and Diversity in the Academy


Students with disability (SWD) have increased proportionally in higher education internationally over the past decade. The legal requirement to accommodate disability through ‘reasonable adjustment’ has driven an approach in most higher education systems focused on amelioration of individual deficit due to impairment and provides institutions with a way to deny accommodation if it proves ‘unreasonable’. Recent research has shown a significant proportion of SWD do not disclose, nor receive accommodations, to support their learning. All students enroll in higher education to learn and achieve success through learning. Supporting learning for all students requires an understanding of the inter-relationships that shape student learning experiences. This requires an ecological approach that addresses barriers to learning within institutions that may create disability for those students with impairments. This chapter presents the perspective of students on what would improve learning for them in their university. Their suggestions illustrate the impacts that result from lack of inclusive practice and accommodation of their impairment. Improving their learning, students suggest, requires increased flexibility in delivery, variety in how learning is designed and delivered, increased interaction with both teachers and peers, and improving their sense of ‘belonging. Higher education institutions need to change, and students have detailed suggestions on what needs to happen.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 129.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Brett, M. (2016). Disability and Australian higher education: Policy drivers for increasing participation. In A. Harvey, C. Burnheim, & M. Brett (Eds.), Student equity in Australian higher education: Twenty-five years of a fair chance for all (pp. 87–108). Singapore: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bunbury, S. (2018). Disability in higher education – do reasonable adjustments contribute to an inclusive curriculum? International Journal of Inclusive Education. Retrieved January 2020, from

  • Burgstahler, S., & Moore, E. (2009). Making student services welcoming and accessible through accommodations and universal design. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 21(3), 155–174.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cole, E. V., & Cawthon, S. W. (2015). Self-disclosure decisions of university students with learning disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability, 28(2), 163–179.

    Google Scholar 

  • Couzens, D., Poed, S., Kataoka, M., Brandon, A., Hartely, J., & Keen, D. (2015). Support for students with hidden disabilities in universities: A case study. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 62(1), 24–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Daraio, A., & Daraio, C. (2014). What ETER tells us about size distribution of higher education institutions in Europe. European Tertiary Education Register (ETER). Brief no. 5. Retrieved January 2020, from

  • Davis, R., Randall, D., & West, R. E. (2015). Using open badges to certify practicing evaluators. American Journal of Education, 36(2), 151–163.

    Google Scholar 

  • Denhart, H. (2008). Deconstructing barriers: Perception of students labelled with learning disabilities in higher education. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41(6), 483–497.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dryer, R., Henning, M. A., Tyson, G. A., & Shaw, R. (2016). Academic achievement performance of university students with disability: Exploring the influence of non-academic factors. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63(4), 419–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ebersold, S. (2008). Adapting higher education to the needs of disabled students: Developments, challenges and prospects. In Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (Ed.), Higher education to 2030 – Vol. 1: Demography (pp. 221–240). Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Equity Challenge Unit (ECU). (2014). Equality in higher education: Statistical report 2014. Part 2: Students. London: ECU. Retrieved January 2020, from

  • Fleming, A. R., Oertle, K. M., Plotner, A. J., & Hakun, J. G. (2017). Influence of social factors on student satisfaction among college students with disabilities. Journal of College Student Development, 58(2), 215–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fossey, E., Chaffey, L., Venville, A., Ennals, P., Douglas, J., & Bigby, C. (2015). Supporting tertiary students with disabilities: Individualised and institution-level approaches in practice. Research report. Adelaide, Australia: National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

    Google Scholar 

  • Fuller, M., Healey, M., Bradley, A., & Hall, T. (2004). Barriers to learning: A systematic study of the experience of disabled students in one university. Studies in Higher Education, 29(3), 303–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gabel, S. L., Reid, D., Pearson, H., Ruiz, L., & Hume-Dawson, R. (2016). Disability and diversity on CSU websites: A critical discourse study. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9(1), 64–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gale, T. (2015). Widening and expanding participation in Australian higher education: In the absence of sociological imagination. The Australian Educational Researcher, 42, 257–271.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grimes, S., Scevak, J., Southgate, E., & Buchanan, R. (2017). Non-disclosing students with disabilities or learning challenges: Characteristics and size of a hidden population. The Australian Educational Researcher, 44(4–5), 425–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grimes, S., Southgate, E., Scevak, J., & Buchanan, R. (2018). University student perspectives on institutional non-disclosure of disability and learning challenges: Reasons for staying invisible. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23(6), 639–655.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grimes, S., Southgate, E., Scevak, J., & Buchanan, R. (2019). Learning impacts reported by students living with learning challenges/disability. Studies in Higher Education. Retrieved January 2020, from

  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). (2015). HESA UK new classifications for student disability by code. Retrieved October 2019, from

  • Kelepouris, C. (2014). Transitioning students with disabilities into higher education. BYU Education and Law Journal, 27, 27–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kilpatrick, S., Johns, S., Barnes, R., McLennan, D., Fischer, S., & Magnussen, K. (2016). Exploring the retention and success of students with disability. Hobart, TAS: University of Tasmania.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koshy, P., & Seymour, R. (2015). Student equity performance in Australian higher education: 2007 to 2014. Perth, WA: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindsay, S., Cagliostro, E., & Carafa, G. (2018). A systematic review of barriers and facilitators of disability disclosure and accommodations for youth in post-secondary education. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 65(5), 526–556.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lovett, B. J., Nelson, J. M., & Lindstrom, W. (2015). Documenting hidden disabilities in higher education: Analysis of recent guidance from the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 26(1), 44–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Luzeckyj, A., King, S., Scutter, S., & Brinkworth, R. (2011). The significance of being first: A consideration of cultural capital in relation to ‘first in family’ student’s choices of university and program. A practice report. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 2(2), 91–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Madaus, J. W., Gelbar, N., Dukes, L. L., III, Lalor, A. R., Lombardi, A., & Faggrella-Luby, M. N. (2018). Literature on postsecondary disability services: A call for research guidelines. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 11(2), 133–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, L. M. (1994). Equity and general performance indicators in higher education: Equity indicators (Vol. 1). Australian Government Department of Employment, Education and Training. Evaluations and Investigations Program. Canberra, Australia: Australian Government Publishing Service.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miskovic, M., & Gabel, S. L. (2012). When numbers don’t add up and words can’t explain: Challenges in defining disability in higher education. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 6(3), 233–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mulder, A. M., & Cashin, A. (2015). Health and wellbeing in students with high psychological distress from a regional Australian university. Advances in Mental Health, 13(1), 72–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mullins, L., & Preyde, M. (2013). The lived experience of students with an invisible disability at a Canadian University. Disability & Society, 28(2), 147–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Murdock-Perriera, L. A., Boucher, K. L., Carter, E. R., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). Places of belonging: Person- and place-focused interventions to support belonging in college. In M. Paulsen & L. Perna (Eds.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 34, pp. 291–323). Cham: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A.-M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., … & Schwarting, M. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years after high school: A Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). NCSER 2011-3005. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

    Google Scholar 

  • Newman, L. A., & Madaus, J. W. (2015). Reported accommodations and supports provided to secondary and postsecondary students with disabilities: National perspective. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38(3), 173–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Riddell, S., & Weedon, E. (2014). Disabled students in higher education: Discourses of disability and the negotiation of identity. International Journal of Educational Research, 63, 38–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Strnadová, I., Hájková, L., & Květoňová, K. (2015). Voices of university students with disabilities: Inclusive education on the tertiary level – A reality or a distant dream? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(10), 1080–1095.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tinklin, T., & Hall, J. (1999). Getting round obstacles: Disabled students’ experiences in higher education in Scotland. Studies in Higher Education, 24(2), 183–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • University of Indiana. (2017). Size and setting classification description. Bloomington, IN: Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, University of Indiana. Retrieved January 2020, from

Download references


The study institution supported this work through an equity grant and permission has been given by the university executive to publish these results.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susan Grimes .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Grimes, S. (2020). Student Suggestions for Improving Learning at University for Those with Learning Challenges/Disability. In: Crimmins, G. (eds) Strategies for Supporting Inclusion and Diversity in the Academy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-43592-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-43593-6

  • eBook Packages: EducationEducation (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics