Though not universally available, opportunities for postsecondary education for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been established in policy and practice in many countries. Provision has been informed by both normalising and emancipatory discourses about disability, difference and inclusion, which are well-known to professional audiences. These discourses are sometimes contested, sometimes contradictory and ever evolving. They co-exist in complex ways that inform an array of views about how to support transition to adult life. These range from the positioning of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as: passive recipients of services; in need of support to live a ‘normal life’; and/or active agents of transformation influenced by ethical and emancipatory approaches to provision based on human rights and person-centred approaches to living lives of dignity and value, as well as obtaining employment and independence.

Today, transformative and empowering notions of self-determination, economic independence and equity are promoted with the aim of enhancing quality of life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and hopefully helping to change societal attitudes along the way. But they are situated within a wider educational context consisting of deeply established social structures and norms that position people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as perpetual children, where many opportunities for participation in postsecondary education, and in particular, higher education, are constrained by assumptions about what they cannot do or achieve. Fortunately, the idea that such people lack the capacity to participate satisfactorily in higher education is increasingly being challenged by unconditional views of their humanity, an appreciation for their gifts and contributions to society, and the co-creation of university courses.

This book adds ballast to the cause by exploring forms of provision, professional roles and student experiences in higher education. It promotes a conceptualisation of postsecondary education for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities that is respectful of and attentive to the accounts of those who have participated in these programmes. It considers future directions for policy and practice, but perhaps most importantly, it argues for a focus on developing and sustaining relationships following a university experience. This is an important focus that deserves considerable attention in furthering the development of future provision that could be recognized as inclusive of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

While much has been learned about how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn, the tendency to focus on individual needs, still too often tacitly linked to deficit thinking about ability, remains strong. Greater engagement with theories of adult learning that recognise learning as a social act and focuses on how people make sense of experience may help break the yoke of the perpetual child view of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in postsecondary education. Though the socialising aspects of learning with others and the bonds that can be formed when people are treated without condescension have yet to be fully realised in postsecondary provision, there are lessons to be drawn from the accounts in this volume.

The concept of lifelong learning reminds us that the journey never ends, pathways vary, and learning is a quality of life issue for all of us.

People with Intellectual Disability Experiencing University Life

Theoretical Underpinnings, Evidence and Lived Experience


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