Background: While a number of research studies have endeavoured to understand students with disabilities’ experience in higher education and have recommended ways to effectively support student success, the role of parental support has been neglected. Many studies have been hampered by a limited understanding of students with disabilities and have, in particular, underestimated students’ ‘access to economic, social and cultural forms of capital’ that caring parents provide.
Objectives: This article seeks to explore students with disabilities’ experiences of parental support in the South African higher education context. The research question guiding this article is: What forms of economic, social and cultural capital do parents and extended families provide to students with disabilities to enable them to succeed in higher education?
Method: In-depth semi-structured individual and focus group interviews were conducted with 17 students with disabilities at two universities of technology. The interview transcripts were thematically analysed with a view to understanding Pierre Bourdieu’s forms of capital that parents provided.
Results: The study found that while parents are not always able to provide material support, they offered rich and varied forms of social and cultural capital that enabled students with disabilities’ academic success.
Conclusion: Given that parental support plays an important role in the success of students with disabilities, and this role changes as these students become more independent, this study recommends the need for universities to also pay more attention to involving parents in the education of the former. It is hoped that putting in place appropriate forms of parental involvement can create a conducive environment for universities to provide inclusive education holistically.
African Journal of Disability, Vol 8, 2019