ESOK-hanke 2006-2011

Abstract in English

The research deals with factors affecting the studies and employment of young disabled and deaf persons. The aspects investigated are (i) the formation of educational paths, plus the support and inducements that the young people have encountered, and (ii) the obstacles (attitudinal, social and physical) to education encountered in high school/vocational school, in higher education, and in moving to working life. The broadly-defined target groups are young people with physical and visual disabilities; also young people who are deaf or hearing-impaired. The study also deals to some extent with the experiences of diverse learners concerning easy access to studies; nevertheless, the main focus is on the educational paths of disabled and deaf young people.

The frame of reference for the research is built on the social model of disability and also the experiential approach. Bringing together the experiential point of view and the social model means that experience becomes the starting point for examining educational paths and employment, and that these are looked at in the context of society, together with its structures and institutions. In addition, the analysis of the material utilises a conceptual map of the ability to study.

The material for the research consists of two interview groups, and 28 themed interviews, conducted individually. There are 34 interviewees altogether (23 women, 11 men). The ages range from 17 to 34. Both current students and graduates are included. The interviewees are for the most part students in higher education or graduates from higher education, or persons aiming at higher education in the future. The material is analysed according to themes and a classificatory scheme.

The educational paths of the interviewees are summarised as being of three types, i.e. straight-line, zigzag or broken. The straight-line type is one that has (despite possible obstacles) progressed without major breaks, difficulties or delays from one level to the next. The zigzag path contains breaks or prolongations. A path can be described as broken when the person has, against his/her will, been outside both education and working life for a longer period.

Important factors in the formation of educational paths include the personal resources of the student and his/her skills in studying. It is also important that the study environment should be barrier-free, both attitudinally and physically, and that there should be services for disabled persons together with other kinds of support from society. The personal resources that lead to steady progress in studies include strong self-esteem, perseverance, knowledge of one’s own needs and rights, and functioning social relationships.

In terms of skills in studying, the critical factors include finding the right field of study, and also having an adequate grounding in basic skills. An active and positive attitude on the part of the educational institution facilitates entry into studies and steady progress in studies thereafter. In the physical environment, barriers and accessibility are important in terms of participation and general wellbeing in the institution, and in establishing social relationships. When services operate efficiently and adequately it is possible for students to put maximum effort into their studies. The smooth progression of studies is also greatly affected by the ways in which these factors interact with each other.

The factors hindering the interviewees’ educational paths have shown themselves to be, in particular, attitudinal barriers within the institution, and the inadequacy of social services for the disabled. The student’s personal resources can have great significance in compensating for deficiencies in the studying environment or in the organisation providing services. The research shows that structural factors outside the education system also play a central role in the participation of disabled and deaf young people in education – or in marginalising such participation.

In their consideration of employment, the interviewees are, generally speaking, optimistic regarding their education. Even though they are conscious of the obstacles, they believe that education is important and that it will improve their own position in the labour market. Those interviewees who have already experienced working life have, for their part, encountered both attitudinal and structural barriers. The prejudices of employers have made employment difficult, as has the rigidity of the service organisation, and achieving a balance between benefits and salaried income.