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Faculty Perceptions of Academic Accommodation Provision to Students with Invisible Disabilities

By: Kaveh Bahraini

Students with disabilities (SWD) are currently underrepresented in the college population (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office – CCCCO, 2016) and have traditionally faced numerous barriers in achieving a postsecondary education (Angel, 1969; Fonosch, 1980).  Despite federal and state non-discrimination laws such as Sections 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that were created to ensure equal educational opportunity and access, SWD continue to experience lower rates of persistence, completion, and transfer to 4-year colleges and universities (CCCCO, 2016; Kim & Lee, 2015).  Data from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office indicates that in comparison with their non-disabled peers, SWD are less likely to complete transfer level math and English, despite being transfer prepared, defined as having completed 60 CSU or UC transferable units (CCCCO, 2016; CCCCO, 2013).

One of the most vital tools to facilitate learning and decrease educational barriers for SWD is the provision of academic accommodations (Hong, 2015; Kim & Lee, 2015; Zhang et al., 2010).  Community college faculty have a critical role in ensuring that DSPS-approved academic accommodations are implemented in their classrooms (Baker, Boland, & Nowik, 2012). However, studies have revealed that negative faculty perceptions are a major theme in the barriers and frustrations SWD encounter (Bolt, Decker, Lloyd, and Morlock; 2011; Hong, 2015).

The majority of empirical research investigating college faculty perceptions and willingness to accommodate SWD has been conducted one to two decades ago with inconsistent findings (Leyser et al., 2011; Lombardi & Murray, 2011).  Studies have indicated that there may be a hierarchy of accommodation provision among faculty that is directly related to the acceptance of certain groups of SWD or the amount of effort required for accommodation implementation (Hill, 1996; Nelson, Dodd, & Smith, 1990).  For instance, faculty report more willingness in accommodating students who have visible and apparent disabilities, compared to invisible disabilities which have posed the most challenges to faculty (Burgstahler & Doe, 2006; Hindes & Mather, 2007).  Consequently, negative faculty attitudes towards SWD and academic accommodation provision have been found to impact (a) the quality of accommodations SWD receive and (b) faculty willingness to accommodate, both critical factors in the academic success of SWD (Hong, 2015; Kim & Lee, 2015).

Purpose Statement & Research Questions 

The purpose of this phenomenological study is to explore community college math and English faculty perceptions of academic accommodation provision, while gaining an in-depth understanding of how faculty view the provision of this service to students with invisible disabilities.  This study will be guided by the following research questions: (1) How do community college faculty perceive the provision of academic accommodations? (2) What are the experiences and perceptions of community college faculty in providing academic accommodations to students with invisible disabilities? (3) What factors influence the willingness of faculty to provide academic accommodations? 

This qualitative study will utilize interpretive phenomenological methods, which focus on revealing and interpreting the inner essence of the participants cognitive processing and lived experiences (Groenewald, 2004; Worthington, 2013). Purposive sampling techniques (Patton, 2002) will be utilized to recruit California community college math and English faculty selected from two community colleges within a multi-campus community college district in Southern California.  Data will be collected through face-to-face semi-structured interviews, which is most appropriate for in-depth understanding and clarification of personal perspectives (Ritchie, Lewis, Nicholls, & Ormston, 2013).  In summary, it is the aim of this study to increase the knowledge of educational leaders with regard to how faculty perceive academic accommodations and students with invisible disabilities from the first-hand experiences of faculty.  Findings from this study will help inform policy, best practices, and faculty training to support positive educational outcomes for SWD.



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