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higher education, inclusion, college, intellectual disabilities, instructors


The Higher Education Opportunity Act has increased the number of postsecondary education programs established to assist individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) in attending college. With the development of these new programs, there is an ever-present need to assess the interactions and necessary strategies to support students with ID in higher education. As college instructors are the primary instructors within these settings and programs, the current study explored this population’s perceptions and experiences related to instructing, communicating, and developing effective relationships with students with ID in their coursework. In-depth interviews were conducted with six college instructors working with students with ID in a higher education program in the United States. Applied thematic analysis identified themes related to the frequency of communication and relationship development, collaboration strategies, and using student feedback to inform future instruction and course preparation. Most instructors found relationships with students developed more effectively via increasing frequency, consistency, and accessibility of communication methods (e.g. scheduling individualised meeting times, video recorded directions, and reminders). Instructors also reported the importance of clear communication with stakeholders, supporting personnel/staff, and students’ peers, which aided student learning and engagement in the classroom. Limitations and implications for practice are discussed.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in International Journal of Intellectual Disabilities.

Gavin W. Watts, Mariya T. Davis & Eric J. López (2023) ‘How are you doing?’: college instructors’ relationships and communication with students with intellectual disabilities, International Journal of Developmental Disabilities, DOI: 10.1080/20473869.2023.2176411

It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Available for download on Friday, February 16, 2024