In this podcast episode (link above), I talk with Dr Vivian Rath. Vivian is a teaching fellow in Trinity College Dublin and recently completed his PhD on the “social engagement experiences of disabled students in higher education in Ireland”.
We talk about his personal journey accessing higher education as a disabled person himself. The barriers that he faced, and how his own social experiences in higher education influenced his desire to research this important issue for disabled students. He explains how the use of the Transformative Paradigm and the Bioecological Model put his participants at the centre of his research and at the same time working alongside them for transformational change by using a social justice approach and human rights.
Vivian explains how the presence of disabled students in higher education is a relatively new phenomenon and their presence is surprisingly low… but dramatically increasing. We discuss the lack of agency and a sense of disempowerment when disabled students feel unseen and unheard. It is critical to listen to the voices of ALL students and to be aware of the barriers that many different students face. He shares the endearing voices of his participants, their sense of belonging, their desire to be seen and heard, and the impact a lack of awareness by higher education institutions has on them. While he does see changes being made, it is largely sporadic across university settings and much more needs to be done.
University leaders and stakeholders need to realize that social engagement is important for ALL students. If disabled students can’t access a coffee with a fellow student because the campus canteen’s lift isn’t working, and their request to have it repaired goes unheard, they are left feeling like their needs don’t matter. Disabled students just want to be able to access facilities, events, or opportunities to volunteer and engage. They want to have meaningful connections and relationships with others as part of their social engagement experience, and to be heard and valued, just like every other student on campus.
Come, listen and learn!