Disabled students face difficulties accessing support in tertiary education

New research on disabled students’ experiences in tertiary education shows that accessing support can be difficult and levels of support can be inconsistent, and that barriers to inclusion are common and power dynamics make it hard for disabled students to speak up.

With over a million disabled people in this country (1 in 4), and 7% of disabled people having post-graduate qualification (compared with 21% of non-disabled people in the general population), there is still great inequity in accessing tertiary education.

New 'Let’s Get Accessible' research shows that the barriers for disabled tertiary students included frequent levels of self-disclosure of medical information, financial pressures, under-resourcing of disability services and physical inaccessibility such as inaccessible buildings. There are also inconsistencies in the support provided by disability services and by academic staff.

Disabled students also talked about barriers to inclusion in the wider student experience. These included ableism from providers and staff members, staff not being equipped to support disabled students and social exclusion from peers and staff.

The Let’s Get Accessible research involved 245 disabled tertiary students from universities and Te Pūkenga via a survey and focus groups in mid-2023. This is a high level of engagement compared to previous studies. The last data on this population group was based on the 2013 Disability Survey and provided valuable information about outcomes. This new research builds on the Disability Survey data through new insights into lived experiences to inform future policy decisions and enable providers to use the information to improve their ways of working with disabled students.  

In partnership with the Tertiary Education Commission, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and the National Disabled Students’ Association, we have published the 'Let’s Get Accessible' report.

Find accessible formats and a summary on the Education Counts website. 

Let's get accessible – Education Counts(external link) 

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