Poster Session
Issue Date: July 2015
Published Online: July 01, 2015
Updated: April 30, 2020
Engaging University Students With Learning Disabilities in Targeting Individual- and Institutional-Level Change
Author Affiliations
  • University of Florida
  • University of Florida
Article Information
Learning Disabilities / Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Translational Research
Poster Session   |   July 01, 2015
Engaging University Students With Learning Disabilities in Targeting Individual- and Institutional-Level Change
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911520175.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911520175.

Date Presented 4/17/2015

Principles of community-engaged research are used to discover and address personal- and environmental-level concerns of university students with learning disabilities for the purpose of facilitating individual action and targeting institutional changes most important to participants.

SIGNIFICANCE: Interprofessional efforts are used to facilitate self-efficacy for undergraduate students with learning disabilities (LDs) while working with university personnel to cocreate a campus network of support. We apply principles of community-engaged research (CEnR) to address participants’ personal and environmental concerns for the purpose of enabling individual action and institutional change. Participants’ personal knowledge, skills, and surrounding environmental factors inform resultant intervention activities.
INNOVATION: Our research involves development and testing of personal-, interpersonal-, and institutional-level supports. Action-oriented CEnR strives to understand, develop, and implement interventions within real-life contexts of participants’ lives. Understanding, developing, and implementing interventions within real-life contexts pose methodological challenges important for occupational therapy researchers to overcome. Interventions seeking to address concerns most salient to the client within the context of client’s individual circumstances are consistent with occupational therapy theory and practice.
In this study, we attempted to answer the following research question: How can action-oriented CEnR support development of intervention activities and inform targeted institutional level changes? Historically, students with disabilities have felt marginalized by society and educational institutions. An action-oriented CEnR approach is used to place students with LDs at the center of the research while also providing a mechanism to voice and cocreate strategies to address their concerns.
METHOD: Participants were treated as a cohort, and they met monthly as a group and individually with a graduate student mentor twice monthly. Group meetings consisted of trainings followed by discussion of related experiences and potential strategies addressing issues identified. Meetings were conducted on campus at a large, research-intensive university. Participants included 15 academically progressive undergraduates, aged 18 to 26 yr (8 men, 7 women), with diagnoses of dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and unspecified LDs.
We used preliminary qualitative analysis of 1st-yr cohort data. Analysis of individual interviews (n = 15) and discussions from group meetings (n = 8) were reviewed and coded to determine recurring themes and to inform facilitation of project activities (e.g., educational materials for campus dissemination). After group meetings, the research team discussed emerging themes and feasibility of potential actions suggested by participants. All interviews and group discussions were audio-recorded. Passages from transcriptions and audio recordings were open coded (i.e., given descriptive names) with aid of qualitative analysis software. Initial codes were then reduced by similarity and grouped into categories.
RESULTS: Participants desire to possess the skills and confidence to discuss their LDs with their peers, professors, and significant people in their lives. Although many chose to publicly advocate (e.g., through video-recorded speaking about LDs), they did express concerns about inadvertently becoming the “face” of LDs on campus. Participants were motivated to seek out and develop socially relevant (e.g., social media) mechanisms for advocacy.
CONCLUSION: Postsecondary students with LDs can be taught skills that can be used to create educational and social media materials for targeting cultural change and institutional-level dialogue. Exploratory analysis limits generalizability.