The inclusive university practicum placement experience for a student with intellectual disability: An Australian case study

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The Up the Hill Project (UTHP), established in 1999, is one of only two inclusive post-secondary education programs for students with intellectual disability at Australian universities. Based on the inclusive individual support model of post-secondary education (Hart et al., 2006), students are supported by peer mentors to audit university topics over three years. Peer mentors help facilitate social inclusion within the university community. Typically, students audit theoretical topics with Lectures and Tutorials on campus, and practicum field placements have not been considered. This is potentially because of perceived risks and negotiating additional support needs with external placement agencies. This belief is contrary to UTHP’s social inclusion philosophy, and the right to access general tertiary education on an equal basis with others under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In 2016, for the first time, an UTHP student was supported to undertake an 80-hour practicum placement, over 12 weeks, similar to that required of human service degree students. The placement involved supporting students at a local secondary special education school. The student also completed requirements of a practicum such as a portfolio, performance review meetings, and assessments.

This is one of the first studies specifically exploring an inclusive practicum placement experience for a student with intellectual disability at the tertiary level. Given that Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) aims to help people with disability achieve their goals, which may include education (NDIS, 2016), an evidence-base is needed to ensure the success of students with intellectual disability at Australian Universities. The aims of this research were: to gain the student’s voice of her experience of the practicum placement, and to explore the perspectives and experiences of others involved with facilitating and supporting the practicum placement.

Descriptive case study methodology was used. The six participants were: the student, her mother, two peer mentors, the Practicum Coordinator, and the Practicum Supervisor at the secondary school. Interviews were used to gather information about experiences, benefits, challenges, and areas for improvement. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. We found that: all participants expressed that the placement was an authentic experience where the UTHP student felt like ‘any other student’; initial concerns were alleviated by good preparation; communication and collaboration with all stakeholders including family was vital; the characteristics of the student and the mentors impacted on the overall positive experience; further opportunities for rapport building between the student and mentors in the initial stages of the placement would have been beneficial to ensure clarity. The student explained that undertaking the practicum was helping her to achieve her goals and dreams of working with people with disabilities. An UTHP student placement manual was produced to inform future practicum placements.

This paper provides preliminary evidence, from a student and stakeholder perspective, about processes to facilitate and support a successful practicum placement for students with intellectual disability. Results can be used to inform future inclusive practicum placement experiences for university students with intellectual disability.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventThe Inclusive Education Summit, 2017 - Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 27 Oct 201729 Oct 2017


ConferenceThe Inclusive Education Summit, 2017


  • The Up the Hill Project (UTHP)
  • Inclusive university practicum placement experience
  • Student with intellectual disability


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