Universal design: An embedded case study on the approach towards the inclusion of students with physical disabilities in higher education in India


  • Navjit Gaurav Queen's University https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5129-3152
  • Vaishali Kolhe Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  • Atul Jaiswal University of Montreal




Architectural barriers, built environment, participation, universal design, physical impairment, accessibility.


Aim: Research on students with physical disabilities (SWPDs) in higher educational institutions (HEIs) often focuses on students’ abilities rather than environmental barriers. Architectural barriers are notably the major roadblock for SWPDs in higher education. Although Indian HEIs are doing architectural modifications (e.g., accessible ramps, washrooms) creating a conducive built environment that supports SWPDs’ meaningful participation seems a distant dream. This study aimed to explore the architectural barriers faced by the SWPDs and the environmental requirements for social participation and inclusion. Methods: Using a qualitative approach, the study employed an instrumental embedded case study to explore the need for the Universal design to promote the inclusion of SWPDs in HEIs. Six students with physical disabilities, aged between 22 and 30 years, and their teachers (n=5) participated in the study. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and participatory observational accessibility assessment. The data was analysed using categorical aggregation followed by cross-case analysis through constant comparisons on similarities and differences of themes. Results: Findings showed that two‐thirds of the participants experienced barriers to participation in the built and the social environment. Most barriers originated from the institute’s-built environment design and activities conducted on the premises. Students using a wheelchair or walking frame experienced significantly more participation barriers than students using crutches or walking sticks. The results suggested the area in need of most improvements to promote SWPD’s participation are the indoor spaces (for example, corridor, classrooms) and opportunities for vertical movements at the institute. Conclusion: Failure to provide adequate built environmental modifications results in SWPDs’ restricted participation or exclusion from the participation opportunities in and out of the classroom. Implications: Our study findings can have implications across future research, practices of architectural design, HEIs, and the policies to promote inclusion, optimal participation, and social interaction of SWPDs within HEIs.

Author Biography

Navjit Gaurav, Queen's University

Architect Navjit Gaurav is a Rehabilitation Science doctoral student at Queen's University, Canada. He has extensive community work experience across different Indian states. His research aims to explore the Community schools' design in Indian slums to promote meaningful participation and social interaction of children with disabilities.




How to Cite

Gaurav N, Kolhe V, Jaiswal A. Universal design: An embedded case study on the approach towards the inclusion of students with physical disabilities in higher education in India . DCIDJ [Internet]. 2023 Oct. 18 [cited 2024 May 21];34(2):6-26. Available from: https://dcidj.uog.edu.et/index.php/up-j-dcbrid/article/view/577



Original Research Articles