Over the years, the evolution of student development theories has paved the way to include diverse students, including students with disabilities (SWD). Still, student development theories are yet to employ a view of disability as a social category and an identity. To fill this gap, the current study applies the three waves of student development theories and critical disability theory to analyze and understand how SWD perceive and experience disability support centers (DSCs), and the contribution they attribute to DSCs for their development and success in higher education and afterward.
Twenty-one SWD were interviewed at the university. The findings demonstrate the tension between policies of embracing and denying disability as a ‘difference’ and an identity in higher education. The findings also link SWD’s challenges in the campus to lack of access, stigma, and the impact of power dynamics. Furthermore, the findings highlight the role of DSCs in supporting the processes of disability identification among SWD as individuals and as a group.
The study emphasizes the need to strive for holistic and inclusive change in higher education policy and practice. The study may contribute to deepening understanding of the significant role of academic DSCs for the entire stakeholders in higher education and policymakers worldwide.