I Can Do That, Too: Higher Education for People with Disabilities

In the picture: ETI's STEM Curriculum Coordinator Dr. Mona Minkara gives her commencement speech at Wellesley College.

In the picture: ETI's STEM Curriculum Coordinator Dr. Mona Minkara gives her commencement speech at Wellesley College.

Written by ETI Content Writer Hillary Dolinsky

Last month we talked explored why certain social norms—like dating, marriage, and sexuality—are not extended to people with disabilities. This month we’re taking a look at how society has different job and education expectations for people with disabilities than their non-disabled peers.

In today’s world higher education is a must, greatly increasing the chances of finding gainful employment. But to people with disabilities, a higher education can also be a strong pathway to independence, confidence, and empowerment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “people with a disability are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree than people with no disability.” In fact, 16.4% of people with a disability earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to 34.6% of undergraduate students without a disability. If a college degree is so powerful, why don’t we encourage more students with disabilities to consider higher education?

Sara describes this stigma personally, sharing that, “sometimes people are surprised that I went to Harvard, especially when I travel. They think I must be talking about a Harvard other than THE Harvard. People don’t expect that someone young and disabled can graduate from an Ivy League school.” The general attitude of surprise when a person with a disability attends college is part of the problem—and until we raise the bar, we run the risk of discouraging students from reaching their potential.

Society also needs to recognize that college may be an option for students with learning disabilities, too. Some colleges have gone above and beyond their “Office of Disability Services” to create a curriculum, living environment, and social activities specific to the needs of students with learning disabilities. College Magazine explores the top ten schools that are striving to serve students with all disabilities.

We understand that college is not for everyone, and we certainly are not advocating for everyone to go to college. We also know that disabilities range from learning and social to physical, and that a person’s disability may make higher education out of reach. However, an assumption exists that college is not obtainable for a person with a disability, period. Limiting our expectations for students with disabilities impacts how they consider their futures, define their own sense of value, and explore their identities as a people with disabilities.