Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Rachel Zhou




The narratives of university graduate students with learning disabilities (LDs) are for the most part absent in the development of a life course perspective and analysis of LDs, yet an in depth qualitative study of individual stories and experiences with schooling or transition from high school to post-secondary education at this age can inform what we know about employment rates, income, and other markers of adult adjustment in the context of LDs. An insider perspective of this group may help to uncover patterns of discrimination in the dispersal of resources that lead to lower educational attainment and socioeconomic status and mental health problems, as is seen in this group.

Specifically, this thesis aims to examine two research questions: a) What are the experiences of graduate students with LDs in a university setting?; and b) What are the implications of such experiences for policy and services for this group? I am interested in exploring the unique narratives amongst graduate students with learning disabilities from their own perspectives and understanding the implementations of such policies as the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) in light of these students' experiences.

Two female graduate students from two different universities in the south-western Ontario area were interviewed using open ended questions. Literature of empirical studies was compared to the spirit of our government legislation for analysis of its potential effectiveness at ensuring equal opportunity for this group.

The undergraduate experiences of the participants in this study are consistent with international literature on undergraduate experiences, adding to data that suggests that individuals with LDs who manage to gain admission to a postsecondary institution continue to be subjected to disparaging attitudes and interactions similar to the ones they endured as children. The attitudes of teachers and staff betrayed ignorance of facts regarding LDs, leading to judgments such as that they are intellectually inferior, lazy, and unworthy of attention or of accommodations that are their legal right.

Participants discussed their more recent graduate experiences, the context of which sometimes differed in noteworthy ways from that of their undergraduate experiences. As graduate students they emphasized their belief that the most worrisome and discriminatory experiences were those related to unreasonable delays in the provision of accommodations, the delivery of financial aid, and the delivery of technological aids. This included problems such as vague, complicated, and excessively time consuming rules and processes, as well as rules that seem to be structured so as to disqualify individuals with LDs from receiving resources or help, rather than, as might reasonably be hoped, identifying those who should be granted help, and policies and procedures that work to create a substantially larger financial burden.

It is suggested that the AODA has not been effective as a tool for disseminating truth and knowledge and eradicating discrimination against individuals with LDs, and that interactions with individual staff members may not only evidence the discriminatory beliefs of that individual, but of the system or department that he or she represents as well. Suggested changes include: mandatory education and awareness training for post secondary instructors; the implementation of Universal Design of Instruction and needed infrastructure; and the implementation of clear procedures and penalties for non compliance that do not place the onus on the student to report incidents or secure and provide proof.

McMaster University Library

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