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Not the right kind of 'digital capital'? An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies and higher education institutions


The paper focuses on disabled students in higher education (HE) and their use of technologies to support their learning. Disabled students commonly report that they feel they have to work harder than other students because they have to manage both their disability and their study. Access to and accessibility of technologies affects how well disabled students manage this workload. Data were collected from disabled students in a teaching-intensive university in UK using an online questionnaire survey and a follow-up semi-structured interview. A 'digital capital' framework was used to explore the relationship between disabled students and their technologies and examine the potential complexities of this relationship in more detail. Our results show that while disabled students do have access to social and cultural resources; sometimes these resources are not appropriate or effective (e.g. school-based ICT qualifications) or they are not drawing on all the possible resources available to them (e.g. non-institutional based support or support from disabled students). This means that disabled students can lack the 'right' kind of digital capital to enable them to succeed within HE environments. These findings have implications for how HE institutions conceptualise and organise technology related support services for disabled students.

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