The posting below is a review by Nicole Lopez-Jantzen* of the book College for Students with Disabilities: We Do Belong, Eds. Pavan John Antony and Stephen M. Shore. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015. The review is from Currents in Teaching and Learning, Vol.9, No. 2, September 2017. Currents in Teaching and Learning is a peer-reviewed electronic journal that fosters exchanges among reflective teacher-scholars across the disciplines. It is a publication of the Center for Teaching and Learning of Worcester State University, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Copyright © 2017 WSU, 486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
*Dr. Nicole Lopez-Jantzen is an assistant professor of history at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
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College for Students with Disabilities: We Do Belong. (review)
Antony and Shore’s book is a collection of eleven essays by scholars and individuals with disabilities discussing the experiences of students with disabilities in higher education, along with an introduction and conclusion by the editors. Both Dr. Antony and Dr. Shore are professors of Special Education at Adelphi University, New York, a university that has developed a model support program, the Bridges to Adelphi Program, for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other non-verbal learning disorders. Moreover, both Dr. Shore and Ehrin McHenry are scholars who share their personal experience as individuals with disabilities working in higher education. Several chapters highlight the resources at Adelphi and the experience of students with ASD in higher education, although some chapters analyze the experiences of students with other physical, intellectual, and learning disabilities. While the book is divided into two parts, both are concerned with sharing the stories of students with disabilities, either as part of case studies on particular disabilities in the first part or as standalone autobiographical essays by individuals with disabilities in the second. This is a conscious decision on the part of the editors, who assert in their introduction that they “felt the need to incorporate this ideology based on the philosophy that all voices need to be heard” (p. 11). As the title of their book affirms, a major idea present in the volume is that students with disabilities belong in college, and thus the book advocates for these students’ inclusion and ability to succeed in higher education and offers practical advice for students, professors, and administrators to help these students reach their goals.
After a brief introduction, chapters two through eight are by scholars discussing the challenges, support needed, and, in many cases, the successes of students with different types of disabilities in higher education. In chapter two, Antony analyzes the daily life experiences of nine students with cerebral palsy who attended different colleges. A major theme that emerged from interviews with the students with cerebral palsy, which is echoed in the autobiographical chapters by students with different types of disabilities in the second part of the book, is that most students with disabilities do not know about their legal rights regarding accommodation before beginning college. Under the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, K-12 students receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), tailored to a student’s individual needs and designed for the student to complete successfully elementary and secondary school. Although students in college are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is designed to ensure equal access, students must self-identify to the college’s office for students with disabilities, provide proper documentation to obtain accommodations, and then self-identify to a professor in order to use them. Many of the students that Antony discusses only found out about certain rights via networking with other students with disabilities. In his autobiographical essay “College Dreams,” Kerry Magro argues that colleges should have peer-mentoring programs for disabled students. Indeed, as part of the Bridges to Adelphi Program (BAP) for students with ASD, discussed in chapter eight by Mitchell Nagel, et al., space is provided for BAP students to interact with each other while the program office is open, and BAP students are encouraged to attend social group meetings during the week, which also provide opportunities to socialize. BAP students can also meet with peer mentors, students from the larger Adelphi community who have received specialized training.
For college professors without training in special education, the sections explaining how accommodations work in secondary education and what students have access to, know, and do not know are particularly useful. As many essays highlight, first semester students with disabilities have to learn to navigate all of the new aspects of college while self-identifying as students with disability and advocating for their own accommodations. Professors can help by not only including an ADA compliance statement on their syllabus, but also mentioning that students need to self-identify and arrange for accommodations with the office of students with disabilities on the first day of class and telling them where to find it. Many of the students with disabilities stated that supportive teachers and professors were instrumental in getting them the support they needed to reach their potential. Reading accounts by individuals with disabilities about their college experiences underscores the variety of challenges that the students can face and the possible solutions that allow them to thrive in higher education. Therefore this book helps college professors to begin to think of ways to design (or re-design) their course materials to be inclusive instead of adapting them to accommodate students later on, which can be difficult for both students with disabilities and professors.
Several authors stated that, despite the inclusion of transition services, many young adults with disabilities are not informed about opportunities to seek higher education and in many cases are discouraged from doing so. In addition to higher education, transition plans can include vocational skills training or support with employment, and too often students with disabilities are not considered “college material.” Karleen Haines argues in chapter five that individuals with mild intellectual and developmental disabilities can attend some higher education institutions, and that families, counselors, administrators and teachers should not outright dismiss higher education for these students. Like other authors, she also states that professors and college administrators need to understand the needs of students with disabilities as well as to encourage and assist them in developing their potential. In the conclusion, Antony and Shore urge teachers and transition specialists to consider higher education as a viable post-secondary option and work with students with disabilities and their parents/guardians to develop appropriate transition plans tailored to the students’ individual needs. Indeed, in their conclusion they cite research which shows that students with disabilities are enrolling in college in increasing numbers, with 88 percent of degree-granting postsecondary institutions, and 100 percent of public ones, reporting enrollment of students with disabilities in 2008/9. Furthermore, 60 percent of students with disabilities enroll in community colleges. The essays in this collection, unlike previous scholarship, emphasize the daily experience of those students who go through higher education and after graduation. Some of the students in the study, such as Shore himself, Kerry Magro, and George and Matthew, students with learning disabilities discussed in the case study in chapter six, have gone on to have meaningful careers after graduating college. However, many students face challenges in obtaining work, including discrimination, despite being highly qualified and able to perform essential job functions. In chapter seven, Ehrin McHenry details her struggles first in field work placements in graduate school and then in the job market. McHenry relates that one would not let her take home and type an application even though she has spastic quadriplegia, a type of cerebral palsy, and another did not have an elevator, which effectively ruled her out.
Most of the scholars in this collection work at Adelphi, and thus its innovative program is highlighted. Regarding the Bridges to Adelphi Program, Nagler (p. 156) states that one of the challenges to building such a program is that a college’s administration “must understand and accept the fiscal and physical challenges and commitments needed to build a successful ASD program.” The students profiled in the various studies and autobiographical accounts had both positive and negative experiences in college and faced different challenges depending on the institutions that they attended. Students described social problems, such as being bullied, issues with getting accommodations in the classroom, and physical problems in getting to and around campus. This collection highlights many issues facing the increasing number of students with disabilities who are attending higher education and advocates for programs such as BAP that will allow them to be successful.
College for Students with Disabilities: We Do Belong is an important text for students with disabilities as well as their parents/guardians, teachers, and counselors to read as they are planning to transition out of secondary education. In addition to personal accounts by students with disabilities sharing their successes and challenges, most of the chapters have useful advice to help students begin college more easily and advocate for themselves while there. It concludes with a checklist for promoting student success, divided into what to do in high school, how to choose a college, how to succeed in college, and how to navigate campus life more generally. Antony and Shore’s collection of essays should be read by students and professionals who are interested in higher education for students with disabilities as an introduction to the topic. Due to the variety of topics covered and the mix of case studies and personal accounts, it might not be as useful for scholars conducting specialized research, except perhaps regarding the BAP program and students with ASD, which are major topics. That said, as an introduction to the topic of students with disabilities in higher education, it makes an important contribution by emphasizing the experiences of students with disabilities in higher education.