Experiences and challenges faced by adult learners with 'hidden' disabilities in higher education.
The purpose of this study is to gain insight into the lives of chronically ill adult students as they navigate their way through higher education. Chronic illness can potentially limit the performance of adult learners in study-related functions such as concentrating, reading, writing and conversing, as well as restricting their participation in learning situations. The issues associated with living and studying when chronically ill are convoluted by a myriad of interlinking psychological, cultural, social and historical aspects. These aspects influence a chronically ill student's management and subsequent success or non success in a higher education context. The complexities of a 'hidden' disability, which in the context of this study refer to chronic illnesses, in particular, autoimmune illnesses, combined with the challenges of being an adult learner in a higher education environment, creates a field of research that needs to be explored in greater detail in order to better serve this 'hidden' population. In order to conceptualise and provide a way of understanding the experiences and challenges of adult learners with 'hidden' disabilities within an educational context, three models or theories, the interactional disability model, Jarvis' learning theory and the Dialogical Self Theory were used in order to provide an amalgamated approach and a more comprehensive, integrated theoretical framework. A narrative approach and qualitative style was chosen, underpinned by the assumptions of an interpretive paradigm. Four participants, with the researcher making up the fifth, were selected by snowball sampling. With each participant, an in-depth narrative interview was conducted. Using thematic analysis, the narrative interviews were analysed and the predominant themes and patterns were identified. Significant themes such as illness management, learning management, relationships, disclosures and identity are illuminated and expounded upon by using the above theoretical frameworks. This analysis and discussion helps to show how complex, interactional and multifaceted the life-worlds of adult learners with 'hidden' disabilities in higher education can be and the multitude of barriers they face. It also shows that the self-positions that adult learners adopt play a crucial role in how these students engage with these barriers. The dissertation concludes with a synthesised discussion on the findings and relevant literature, in light of the initial research questions, and on the implications, insights, recommendations and limitations based on the study's findings.