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You are reading: Resilience/Thriving in Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities: An Exploration Study

Dr Rahul Ganguly, Dr Charlotte Bronwlow, Dr Jan Du Preez  and Dr Coralie Graham

University of Southern Queensland

Report Summary

The research examined the relationship between resilience, career optimism, wellbeing, academic satisfaction and academic achievement. The research was based on a web based survey of 274 predominantly mature-age students, followed by interviews with 30 high-achieving students.

Findings from the survey included:

  • Over a third of the sample did not disclose their disability to the Disability Resources Officer.
  • Nearly 50 per cent of the sample who self-disclosed their disability reported not using disability-related support services.
  • The relationship between resilience, academic satisfaction, wellbeing, career optimism and academic achievement was not direct.

Findings from interviews included:

  • High achieving students shared common characteristics such as taking personal responsibility; having a good personal social network; perseverance; resourcefulness; and having pragmatic expectations of self and life.
  • Students attributed most of their perceived barriers to academic success to external environmental factors rather than to individual factors. Perceived barriers included being misunderstood by teaching staff; unsupportive administrators; inaccessible course materials; low expectations; and staff turnover. Individual factors included managing the side-effects of disability-related medication.
  • Most high achieving students used their attributes and social personal network to successfully negotiate perceived academic barriers that impeded their academic success.
  • High achieving students are strategic learners – they identified challenges and persevered until adversity was mitigated.

Recommendations made were based on the ‘first enable the environment, then enable the student’ principle and included providing:

  • a professional development training module for mandatory training for all academic staff that focuses on universal design principles
  • specific programs of support for female university students with disabilities
  • resilience intervention training for university students
  • comprehensive and flexible disability support services
  • online student discussion groups.


Resilience/Thriving in Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities

Ganguly, R., Brownlow, C., Du Preez, J., & Graham, C. (2015). Resilience/Thriving in Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities: An Exploration Study. Perth: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University.

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