Higher Education and Disability: an interview with Joseph Madaus & Lyman Dukes III

Gleanster, Mais Wilsher, recently sat down with Joseph Madaus and Lyman Dukes III, Professors at the University of Connecticut and the University of South Florida to discuss their latest research publication, Higher Education & Disability.

Clock 3 min read Calendar Published: 5 Apr 2024
Author Jacob Goodwin
Higher Education and Disability: an interview with Joseph Madaus & Lyman Dukes III


Conversations around Higher Education and Disability are happening on a global scale.

With evolving attitudes, and a growing understanding of both physical and mental conditions, institutions are becoming more aware of the challenges faced by disabled students, as well as how they can better support education experiences.

At the forefront of research in the field are Joseph Madaus and Lyman Dukes III, Professors at the University of Connecticut and the University of South Florida respectively. With over 20 years experience apiece, they are well placed to evaluate the current situation faced by disabled students in higher education.

Following an invitation from Elgar Publishing, they, and countless contributors from across the globe came together to curate a research handbook with an international focus. To better assess Higher Education and Disability beyond the United States, on a global scale.

Gleanster, Mais Wilsher, recently caught up with Joseph and Lyman to explore their findings, here’s what they had to say…

What particularly surprised you during your research?

One of the most surprising findings was the profound increase in international publications on higher education and disability.

The initial scope of the research project focussed on literature published between 1952 and 2012 but in the decade since, they found a staggering 1400% increase in studies conducted.

This clearly indicates a burgeoning global interest in the topic, with the US, Canada, UK, and Spain leading the way. This surge is, perhaps usurpingly, coinciding with a rise in disabled student enrolment and evolving cultural attitudes.

Alongside an increase in volume, the research also highlights a positive shift towards inclusive language, particularly regarding mental and intellectual disabilities.

This in turn is reflecting a push for greater inclusion in the traditional college experience, often structured around providing career goals and options before the student has graduated.

Transitioning from secondary to higher education

Although it is not fully explored within this particular book, Joseph and Lyman acknowledged the critical transition from secondary to higher education for disabled students.

They emphasized the ongoing need for research in this area and how cultural attitudes are playing a significant role in facilitating smoother transitions.

Traditionally, guaranteeing accessible information was the core initiative but now, the focus is on streamlining processes, training staff on support strategies, and encouraging student self-advocacy.

The importance of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

So significant is the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an entire section of the book is dedicated to its discussion.

At its core, UDL is a framework for creating learning environments accessible to all.

With examples from Canada, Spain, Ireland, USA and Germany, Joseph and Lyman's work explores a wide array of successful UDL implementations, demonstrating its global impact.

These include examples within their own institutions, where a UDL adapted course was run alongside the BAU version, with the former resulting in both higher grades and better faculty reviews.

How can we prepare our future educators?

While historically UDL's effectiveness was based on anecdotal evidence, the post 2012 research has acknowledged a shift toward a need for more robust measurement tools.

Hard data is crucial to convince faculty that UDL is a worthwhile investment whilst peer examples, provided by faculty UDL advocates, are equally important to show real life examples of positive change.

What policy changes are required?

Focusing particularly on the US, three key areas of legislation were highlighted.

Firstly, The Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act. With its focus on non-medical documentation, this could significantly improve support for students with mental disabilities. At this moment however, it remains a bill in Congress that has not yet been passed into law.

Likewise, modernizing existing legislation such as Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would help ensure higher education as a whole is better placed to welcome and support disabled students.

Both are long overdue for updating and reauthorization, but presently this is not occurring.

Evidently, there are many legislative opportunities for positive change, yet roadblocks remain to making new policy, and updating existing legislation, a reality.

What was your key takeaway from the book?

That this is a global movement, with no end in sight.

Joseph and Lyman were in agreement that the excitement, and engagement on a global scale, to promote a greater understanding of disability in higher education is key for making a significant impact on the lives of disabled students,

They see the book as a starting point for further collaboration and progress, with the ever evolving field of higher education and disability leaving much room and opportunity for future exploration.

To find out more about how you can support everyone across your institution, click the link below and explore how Glean empowers students to become successful, independent learners.

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