Student-environment fit for students with physical disabilities

Abstract: The overall aim of the research presented here was to identify and explore aspects of the school environment that influence the participation of students with physical disabilities. The first study examined the reliability and validity of the School Setting Interview (SSI), which is a new assessment still under development. The results showed that the inter-rater reliability was good or very good and that the SSI was able to accurately identify those students who needed to have adjustments made for them. An examination of the content validity indicated that the items included were adequate for the assessment's intended purpose. In a continuation of this research, the SSI was used to identify adjustment needs for students with severe physical disabilities attending a specially adapted upper secondary school. The results showed that most unmet needs were connected to writing, examinations and reading. Overall, 39 % of the needs for adjustments that had been identified were unmet by the school. It is suggested that one describes adjustments at three different levels in relation to the students who have access to them: a general one, a group one, and an individual one.The SSI was then used to investigate environmental barriers in regular schools. Simultaneously, an investigation was made of how gender, diagnosis, academic grade, the availability of an assistant and the level of locomotion were related to how well the environment suited the students. It was demonstrated that the way in which activities are organised and carried out in school is the area in need of most improvement to promote the participation of students with physical disabilities. The findings also suggest that the older students with disabilities and those who do not have access to an assistant should be prioritised when adjustments are being made.The next stage of the study was to investigate how temporal structures in the school setting influenced the schoolwork of students with disabilities. It was found that the teaching style determined the pace and defined the temporal pattern in the classroom. Four teaching styles were identified with different influences on the students' opportunities to participate. An educational dilemma was discovered regarding how best to provide equal learning opportunities for students with physical disabilities; this is discussed. Finally, research was conducted to increase the understanding of how the presence of an assistant in school influences the participation of students with physical disabilities. It was revealed that assistance was arranged to promote participation in learning, while the students themselves often prioritised social participation with peers. The pupils had limited influence over the assistance provided and little control over when and how support was given. In turn, these diverging priorities and the lack of influence sometimes precluded appropriate assistance being given to the students with disabilities, thereby affecting their overall opportunities to participate in class.In summary, this thesis revealed that the organisation of activities, teaching styles and the provision of assistance were aspects of the social environment that especially influenced students' opportunities to participate. The ambiguity and complexity of facilitating participation also created dilemmas where the provision of support intended to facilitate participation might threaten another aspect of participation. On the basis of the results, a definition of participation is suggested that incorporates performance and the students' feeling of involvement and belonging, as well as the students' opportunities for decision-making.

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