Environmental Influences on Disabled Students' Cocurricular Involvement

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Involvement of students in the cocurriculum is critical to the development of desired outcomes in college. However, the literature on disabled college students centers academic experiences, largely overlooking cocurricular experiences. In this study, we explored the cocurricular involvement of disabled students, examining factors that created barriers for their involvement, how students responded to barriers, factors that made involvement possible, and those that encouraged involvement. Grounded in a critical realist approach to disability, augmented by environmental theories, and employing a descriptive-interpretive design, we used both individual interviews and focus groups to obtain data from 33 disabled students at a midwestern, comprehensive, land-grant university. We found that (a) other people's behaviors and attitudes created more barriers to disabled students' involvement than did physical or organizational factors; (b) participants reported a wide variety of emotional and behavioral responses to the barriers; (c) accessible physical design, flexible organizational policies, and assistance from others made involvement possible; (d) universally designed elements of the physical and organizational environment as well as active support from staff and peers encouraged involvement; and (e) barriers to and encouragers of involvement varied by impairment. We offer implications for further research and practice.