Special needs students: An analytical approach to inclusion

The establishment of the European Higher Education Area led to changes in universities which mean today’s institutions are required to create accessible environments for all students and to train new generations of university teaching staff in educational inclusion. In this sense, the inclusion of students with special educational needs is the responsibility of all higher education institutions.

Inclusive education is a worldwide movement that sets higher education in a context of equality and social justice, considering that students with special educational needs should have the same learning opportunities as others.

Inclusive education aims for all universities to be inclusive, providing quality education and ensuring both access and long-term support for all students.

For these reasons, it is necessary to have higher education institutions that are prepared and endowed with the necessary resources and with university teaching staff who are able to respond to the needs of all the students they have in their class, using different methodological strategies to teach them.

Legislative framework

The legislative framework for the inclusion of students with special educational needs exists. The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states, in Article 24, that people with special educational needs have the right to education of equal quality without discrimination.

The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 addresses equity and understanding in learning opportunities and identifies the need to provide training for university teaching staff, recognising that they play a fundamental role in achieving a quality inclusive university.

Finally, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the 2030 Agenda aim to end inequality, take into account all individuals’ rights and leave no one behind.

However, despite the existence of frameworks that promote equal opportunity principles, non-discrimination and full accessibility for students with special educational needs, universities still have barriers to overcome to ensure this is the reality.

Those barriers make it difficult for students with special educational needs to access education buildings. They include classrooms that are too small and do not allow for the mobility of students with special educational needs, as well as a lack of equipment and other barriers related to a lack of training in diversity issues for university teaching staff.

All of this makes the teaching-learning process more difficult for students with special educational needs.

Assessing inclusion

The number of students with special educational needs who have access to a university education is increasing every year. It is, therefore, important to analyse how they are being included.

For this reason, a new scale was designed, the ‘APTD questionnaire’ (Accessibility, Processes, Training, Demand). The questionnaire takes into account all the barriers that make the inclusion of students with special educational needs at university difficult.

The questionnaire has three sections. The first section concerns socio-demographic data; the second is made up of questions related to teaching staff attitudes toward the inclusion of students with special educational needs at university; and the third section concerns the APTD Scale. The latter has four dimensions:

• Accessibility to the university campus;
• Inclusive educational actions and processes;
• Permanent training;
• Demand for training.

From the responses of university teaching staff, it is possible to analyse what attitudes they have towards the inclusion of students with special educational needs, their access to the university, the inclusive educational processes that are carried out in the classroom, teaching staff’s training in diversity issues and what type of other training they might require from the university.

Training demands

The questionnaire enables the establishment of a link between the different parts assessed by the scale and the different socio-demographic realities of students. The APTD questionnaire directly involves university teaching staff as they are an important part of the inclusion process and it is possible to obtain a global vision of inclusion in the university from their perspective.

With this information universities can, on the one hand, improve their inclusion process and, on the other hand, determine the training needs their teaching staff have with regard to diversity, find out how they can improve that training and what type of training they would like to receive from the university.

Once these training demands are identified, universities can design training courses on inclusive education that are of interest and relevance to teaching staff and ensure that students with special educational needs have equal learning opportunities during their time at university.

Nuria González Castellano is doing a PhD in didactic innovation and teacher training and is a member of the IDEO Research Group. Her research interests include inclusive education, teacher training in diversity, educational adaptations in inclusive settings and educational guidance. This article is based on a paper, “University professors and the inclusion of students with special educational needs in higher education: Proposal and validation of a measurement scale” by N González Castellano, E Cordón Pozo and MJ Colmenero Ruiz in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.