Collegelife presents multiple challenges where the students with disabilities couldexperience complexities that impact their inclusion and success. Students with disabilities presentvulnerability or disadvantage in the process of adapting to college life, asthese tend to be complex (DeFur, Getzel & Trossi, 1996). Particularly,eleven percent (11%) of students with disabilities are in the search for universityeducation and these rates continue to increase through the decades (Gilson,1996; Stodden, Jones & Chang, 2002; Wilson & Getzel, 2001; Wolanin& Steele, 2004; Harbour & Madaus, 2011).
The National LongitudinalTransition Study-2 (NLTS2) found that, when concluding high school, onlyforty-five (45%) of students with disabilities informed to have continued apostsecondary education (Newman, Wagner, Cameto & Knotkey, 2009).Thereare explanations related to the complexities that students with disabilitiesencounter when deciding to continue post-secondary education. Beyond thechallenges faced by college students, students with disabilities face a seriesof unique challenges including socio-environmental and attitudinal barriers (Kim& Lee, 2016; Wolanin & Steele, 2004). There is a set of laws thatregulate post-secondary education (ADA; ADAAA; Rehabilitation Act of 1973,Section 504) offering reasonable alternatives and promoting inclusion in theprovision of services to persons with disabilities. This legal context represents a visible shiftin the type of frequency and quality of services that are provided to studentswith disabilities in their post-secondary studies. (Stodden et al., 2002).
Institutionsof higher education are responsible of identifying specific factors that impactthis population with the goal of providing inclusion opportunities to itsstudents with disabilities. A variety ofsocial barriers are still beneath the surface, and as a result, interfere withthe success of students with disabilities (Trammell, 2009). The mostsignificant barrier affecting accessibility and success is the stigmatizationin post-secondary institutions.
There are a series of negative stereotypes thathave been associated with disabilities and college education that include situationsin which evaluations do not project student functionality for completing assignmentsat the college level, inappropriate judgments by classmates, academic anxiety,lack of reasonable modifications beyond the classroom, and underestimation ofthe capacity to execute tasks. The degreeof stigmatization and aspects of the college experience, which defy students’access, integration, and inclusion could develop resilience in students withdisabilities. A resilient person is one who hasthe capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances. Resilient people are capableof turning difficult situations and conflicts into opportunities of growth (Maddi& Khoshaba, 2005).
Various studies indicate that resilient people tend toface stressful situations actively and are capable of finding different ways ofresponding to challenges (Tansey, Kaya, Moser, Eagle, Dutta, & Chang, 2016;Luther, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). Students with disabilities encounteracademic pressure and social stigma, thus leading to impact accessibility,participation, and success in the college environment. Studies about resilienceand psychosocial adjustment have shown a strong association between thesevariables (Tansey et al., 2016), possibly suggesting that the adversities facedby people with disabilities lead them to adapt to their environment. However, when people reject their disability,it is difficult for them to advance, grow, and learn about themselves and meetinescapable challenges in life. Therefore, we acknowledge that anotherfactor that affects people with functional diversity, is the adaptation totheir disability.
As long as people with disabilities can expand theirknowledge about their functional limitations and gain empowerment of theircondition, the capacity to better transition to the college environment can bepossible. Students with functional diversity who accept their disability pursueto transform their social and professional objectives, acquire new abilities,incorporate their disability as part of their identity, and establish a healthyself-esteem (Chan et al., 2013; Ferrin, Chan, Chronister & Chiu, 2011;Livneh & Antonak, 2005). The acceptance of the disability and thedevelopment of resilience are fundamental frameworks to overcome collegechallenges successfully. However, the”cultural viewpoint of stigmatizing a disability” is the most frequent barrierfound in our society (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016, p.6). Astigma is manifested when students perceive from their peers, beliefs orattitudes because of their disabilities (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016).
Manycollege students hide their disabilities to avoid discrimination, segregation,and stigma (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016). The eradication of stigmas will allowstudents with disabilities to integrate inclusively and naturally to theirlearning process. There is a sense of urgency in working withthese aspects, as the population of students with disabilities continues toincrease at colleges. Tosummarize, in the past years there has been an increase in the amount ofstudents with functional diversity admitted to public and private colleges. Nevertheless, transition to post-secondarystudies for students with disabilities can be complex, requiring them to facesocial and personal challenges (Madaus, 2005). Students with functionaldiversity could experience physical and attitudinal barriers that impede theirinclusion in the college environment. For this reason, various factors that impact students with disabilitieshave been identified: (a) perceived stigma due to negative stereotypes, poorreasonable modifications or academic anxiety, (b) resilience or the capacity toadapt to difficult situations, and (c) the adaptation process can manifest indifferent stages or processes interfering with the students’ personal, social,and academic performance.
Some students with functional diversity might hidetheir disability as a defense mechanism to avoid discrimination and segregationin the college environment; the non-visible disabilities frequently remaindiscreet (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016). The purpose of this study is to explorehow resilience, perceived stigma, and adaptation to disability impact collegestudents with functional diversity. The social stigma associated to disability and the level ofresilience and adaptation to disability are factors that could impact theacademic achievement of students with functional diversity. Public and privatecolleges in Puerto Rico are faced with the major challenge of looking foreffective alternatives for the inclusion of the population with functionaldiversity.