College
life presents multiple challenges where the students with disabilities could
experience complexities that impact their inclusion and success.  Students with disabilities present
vulnerability or disadvantage in the process of adapting to college life, as
these tend to be complex (DeFur, Getzel & Trossi, 1996). Particularly,
eleven percent (11%) of students with disabilities are in the search for university
education 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 Longitudinal
Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) found that, when concluding high school, only
forty-five (45%) of students with disabilities informed to have continued a
postsecondary education (Newman, Wagner, Cameto & Knotkey, 2009).

There
are explanations related to the complexities that students with disabilities
encounter when deciding to continue post-secondary education. Beyond the
challenges faced by college students, students with disabilities face a series
of unique challenges including socio-environmental and attitudinal barriers (Kim
& Lee, 2016; Wolanin & Steele, 2004). There is a set of laws that
regulate post-secondary education (ADA; ADAAA; Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
Section 504) offering reasonable alternatives and promoting inclusion in the
provision of services to persons with disabilities.  This legal context represents a visible shift
in the type of frequency and quality of services that are provided to students
with disabilities in their post-secondary studies. (Stodden et al., 2002).

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Institutions
of higher education are responsible of identifying specific factors that impact
this population with the goal of providing inclusion opportunities to its
students with disabilities.  A variety of
social barriers are still beneath the surface, and as a result, interfere with
the success of students with disabilities (Trammell, 2009). The most
significant barrier affecting accessibility and success is the stigmatization
in post-secondary institutions. There are a series of negative stereotypes that
have been associated with disabilities and college education that include situations
in which evaluations do not project student functionality for completing assignments
at the college level, inappropriate judgments by classmates, academic anxiety,
lack of reasonable modifications beyond the classroom, and underestimation of
the capacity to execute tasks.   The degree
of stigmatization and aspects of the college experience, which defy students’
access, integration, and inclusion could develop resilience in students with
disabilities.

A resilient person is one who has
the capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances. Resilient people are capable
of turning difficult situations and conflicts into opportunities of growth (Maddi
& Khoshaba, 2005). Various studies indicate that resilient people tend to
face stressful situations actively and are capable of finding different ways of
responding to challenges (Tansey, Kaya, Moser, Eagle, Dutta, & Chang, 2016;
Luther, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). Students with disabilities encounter
academic pressure and social stigma, thus leading to impact accessibility,
participation, and success in the college environment. Studies about resilience
and psychosocial adjustment have shown a strong association between these
variables (Tansey et al., 2016), possibly suggesting that the adversities faced
by 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 meet
inescapable challenges in life. 

Therefore, we acknowledge that another
factor that affects people with functional diversity, is the adaptation to
their disability. As long as people with disabilities can expand their
knowledge about their functional limitations and gain empowerment of their
condition, the capacity to better transition to the college environment can be
possible. Students with functional diversity who accept their disability pursue
to transform their social and professional objectives, acquire new abilities,
incorporate their disability as part of their identity, and establish a healthy
self-esteem (Chan et al., 2013; Ferrin, Chan, Chronister & Chiu, 2011;
Livneh & Antonak, 2005). The acceptance of the disability and the
development of resilience are fundamental frameworks to overcome college
challenges successfully.  However, the
“cultural viewpoint of stigmatizing a disability” is the most frequent barrier
found in our society (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016, p.6).  

A
stigma is manifested when students perceive from their peers, beliefs or
attitudes because of their disabilities (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016). Many
college students hide their disabilities to avoid discrimination, segregation,
and stigma (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016). The eradication of stigmas will allow
students with disabilities to integrate inclusively and naturally to their
learning process.   There is a sense of urgency in working with
these aspects, as the population of students with disabilities continues to
increase at colleges.

To
summarize, in the past years there has been an increase in the amount of
students with functional diversity admitted to public and private colleges.  Nevertheless, transition to post-secondary
studies for students with disabilities can be complex, requiring them to face
social and personal challenges (Madaus, 2005). Students with functional
diversity could experience physical and attitudinal barriers that impede their
inclusion in the college environment. 
For this reason, various factors that impact students with disabilities
have been identified: (a) perceived stigma due to negative stereotypes, poor
reasonable modifications or academic anxiety, (b) resilience or the capacity to
adapt to difficult situations, and (c) the adaptation process can manifest in
different stages or processes interfering with the students’ personal, social,
and academic performance. Some students with functional diversity might hide
their disability as a defense mechanism to avoid discrimination and segregation
in the college environment; the non-visible disabilities frequently remain
discreet (O’Shea & Meyer, 2016). The purpose of this study is to explore
how resilience, perceived stigma, and adaptation to disability impact college
students with functional diversity.

The social stigma associated to disability and the level of
resilience and adaptation to disability are factors that could impact the
academic achievement of students with functional diversity. Public and private
colleges in Puerto Rico are faced with the major challenge of looking for
effective alternatives for the inclusion of the population with functional
diversity.  

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