Until fairly recently, it was hard to find students with disabilities at the University. Having a satisfactory experience, having fun, studying, socializing, learning… in short, living. Gradually, very gradually, that seems to be changing, and the ecosystem of university students is increasingly more diverse. The 4th Survey on the Degree of Inclusion of the Spanish University System With Regard to the Reality of Disability (2019) by Fundación Universia indicates that according to the data confirmed by the 65 universities that indicated this value, the total number of students with disabilities is 21,436: 1.5% of the total number of students at these universities. I find it extremely telling in this survey that the percentages of students with disabilities decrease as academic training increases, with 1.8% of the lower and upper division undergraduate students, 1.2% of the postgraduate and master’s students, and 0.7% of the PhD students.
Obtaining an exact picture of disability seems difficult to me, because the issue that I am interested in is the person behind the disAbility, which is why I would hate to fall into the triviality of generalizing. That is why I want to tell you about my experience. My professional and personal experience. To do that, I need to tell you about disAbility in the area of Higher Education. I won’t get into the data presented, rather I want to give you a more qualitative picture by way of conclusions of what I have observed over the years that I have accompanied students with disAbilities at Universidad Europea.
As I mentioned, each of them has a name, and each story should be told individually. This sometimes makes me think that, throughout their entire lives, they have been seen and treated as a group, and not as individuals. They have been hidden behind a label, and they have rarely been given a voice in their life decisions.
All of those who have made it to the University (which we have seen are not that many) have done so thanks to a very solid support network. A network that has supported and sustained that diversity, far-reaching and cross-disciplinary connections that have enabled them to feel accompanied, not so alone. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude for all those mothers and fathers who have given their all (and often quite literally) so that their sons and daughters not only make their dreams come true (which is also great), but so that they also have the same rights as the sons and daughters of others.
In our initial interview with students with special education needs, we tend to ask them what they’re good at, and many of them don’t know what to answer, so they remain silent. They’ve spent their entire lives focusing on what they didn’t know or couldn’t do, and they’ve forgotten the last half of the word that has marked them so deeply: disABILITY.
On some occasions, the greatest shortcomings that we have seen are emotional, maladjusted self-esteem that can make it difficult to relate to their peers or their professors and participate in the learning process. Over the years, I have learned that for them to enjoy academic success, they must feel good in all areas. When the affective-emotional part is in balance, everything flows much better.
For me, it is a continuous learning process to be surrounded by students with and without disAbilities, as they offer a fresh, different perspective and make a genuine positive impact on the entire university community.
May today make us look diversity in the eyes and smile at it.
Sonia Escorial is Diversity Attention Unit in the Máster de Formación del Profesorado de Educación Secundaria y Bachillerato