INCLUSIVE POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION: STORIES OF SEVEN STUDENTS WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES ATTENDING COLLEGE IN ONTARIO, CANADA
Gallinger, Katherine R.
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Post-secondary education is an aspiration for many students; however, students with intellectual disabilities are provided few opportunities to pursue this dream. Current practices in the Ontario system of education frequently segregate and exclude students with intellectual disabilities from participation in the educational opportunities that are provided to non-disabled students. These educational practices ultimately limit opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, and as such, fail to provide sufficient credentials to these students so they can participate in post-secondary education or employment. In recent years, alternative routes through post-secondary education across Canada, and in Ontario, have been emerging for students with intellectual disabilities. Yet, these opportunities are not enshrined in government policies or post-secondary practice, and are only provided at the discretion of a handful of post-secondary institutions across Ontario. The purpose of this study is to provide an understanding of the inclusive post-secondary education experience from the perspectives of students who were participating in inclusive college programs in Ontario. Seven participants were recruited from two colleges in Ontario that provide an inclusive post-secondary experience for students with intellectual disabilities. Through a disability studies framework, a qualitative phenomenological methodology was employed in this study to empower the participants to share their stories and hear their voices. Three in-depth individual interviews using photo-elicitation were used to invite participants to offer a rich, detailed, first-person account of their experiences in inclusive post-secondary education. Each participant’s unique story of their college experience is highlighted as a Student Portrait. The main themes that emerged from the participants combined experiences were academic growth and development, interpersonal relationships and social networks, career development and employment potential, and self-determination. Findings from this study provide evidence of the positive outcomes of participation in post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities, including an anticipated positive impact that would extend well into the futures of each participant. This study highlights the need for post-secondary education reform to increase such opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.