Understanding disabled Malaysian students’ technology use and practices in the university: A social and relational perspective

Author: Helena Song

Song, Helena, 2024 Understanding disabled Malaysian students’ technology use and practices in the university: A social and relational perspective, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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My doctoral study sets out to understand the “messy realities” in the disabled university students’ relationship with technologies within a particular case university in Malaysia. I drew on the work of Pierre Bourdieu to make the argument that the relationship between disabled university students and technology is not straightforward, instead being multifaceted, with a complex interplay of structural and individual factors. Bourdieu’s conceptual tools habitus, field, and capital and a three- stage framework provided a systematic approach to data collection, and framed the social- relational analysis. My study benefitted from Bourdieu’s relational framework which bridged structure and agency, connecting and linking human behaviour and practice to social structures. This framework allowed me to interpret and make sense of the data collected in a holistic way, taking into consideration the social, cultural, and political context of the participants.

Examination of policies and media sources, an online survey, and the life stories of five disabled Malaysian university students collectively provided a window into their complex relationships with technology. This thesis critically discussed, in particular, how and why technology impacts disabled students in meeting the academic and social demands of the university. I considered how technology was managed, negotiated, and strategised by the students to participate successfully in the university, including some insight into the barriers to participation. From here, I outlined three implications for inclusive digital practices including some strategies that universities can take as possible ways forward to increase disabled students’ participation and life chances in the university: adopting universal design principles, building a shared narrative of disability discourse and language, and mainstreaming of disability rights in the university.

This phenomenological case study contributed to the field of disability and technology in a number of ways. First, adding sociological perspectives to our current understandings of digital technology use and practices in higher education. Second, focusing on disability and technology as an under- represented area of research on a digitally excluded group, i.e. disabled university students. Third, highlighting and privileging the particularities of periphery experiences within an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse society. Ultimately, a digitally inclusive university should support their disabled students to: 1) access and use digital technology and resources that have direct impact in supporting their learning and other academic activities; 2) be informed and empowered in making decisions and meaningful choices in their use of digital technology and resources; and 3) use digital technology and resources to increase and encourage their full social, cultural, and political participation in higher education and wider community.

Keywords: disability, higher education, technology, Malaysia, digital inclusion

Subject: Disability Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2024
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Amanda Muller