The NEADS Graduate Student Experience Project

As the number of students with disabilities entering graduate school continues to increase, disability service providers, graduate departments, and universities as a whole are having to develop new strategies to facilitate their success. Currently, there is a critical lack of research and information in this area, as little significant research on this population has been undertaken within Canada or the United States, and demographic data are significantly lacking. There is a considerable need to better understand the overall experiences of disabled students in graduate studies.

The National Graduate Student Experience Taskforce was formed in response to these issues by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) in 2012. The Taskforce has the following goals:

·         To examine the experiences of, and barriers faced by, graduate students with disabilities across Canada;

·         To develop a discussion paper outlining the current systemic issues for graduate students with disabilities;

·         To produce information to develop strategies to facilitate the success of students with disabilities in graduate programs;

·         To develop recommendations for the continued improvement of graduate experience for students with disabilities, which can be translated into policy at an institutional, provincial and/or national level.

The Taskforce is comprised of graduate students with disabilities, disability service providers, student financial aid administrators, graduate student services directors, faculty, community service agencies, assistive technology specialists, and legal experts. Graduate deans and university senior administrators act in an advisory capacity to the taskforce.

The work of the Taskforce consists of several phases. First, an online survey instrument is being distributed to students across Canada  to profile the experiences of, and barriers faced by, graduate students with disabilities in master’s and doctoral programs. This survey instrument  explicitly focuses on the application/interview process; disability-related accommodations and relationship with the disability service provider on campus; the student-supervisor relationship; academic integrity and intellectual property, including conferences and publications; and, collaborations and interactions with faculty and peers. The survey results will shape a key informant interview protocol that will be applied to graduate students with disabilities. The Canadian disability service provider, financial aid administrators, and graduate faculty constituencies will  be surveyed concurrently to obtain their perspectives on issues, barriers and accommodations for graduate students with disabilities. The Taskforce is also undertaking a detailed review of the legislative landscape in Canada, a comprehensive evaluation of the student experience literature, as well as a scan of relevant policies and best practices from across the globe.

To date, members of the Taskforce have presented at several relevant conferences in Canada, including the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA) and the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS), as well as at the Simon Fraser University Summer Institute. The NEADS Committee that oversees the work of the taskforce took part in the 2nd Annual INSPIRE Virtual Symposium, presenting the most relevant aspects of the project. Our outreach efforts have fostered several further collaborative opportunities with other organizations.

This innovative and timely research project will provide significant background for policy and practice changes that will enhance the experience of the growing numbers of graduate students with disabilities in Canadian universities and the taskforce is an integral part of that goal.

For more information about the work of the Taskforce, please contact the Taskforce Chair, Dr. Mahadeo A. Sukhai, at

National Educational Association of Disabled Students

Rm. 426 Unicentre, 1125 Colonel By Drive,  Carleton University

Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6 Canada

Telephone: 613-380-8065

Toll-Free: 1-877-670-1256

Fax: 613-369-4391