A Sense of Belonging: An Insight of Students with Invisible Disabilities

by lyanez on November 7, 2016 - 4:30pm

Many people do not know what it really means to have a sense of belonging, especially in the transition from high school to college. How about if the question was about how students with invisible disabilities develop a sense of belonging? The social science research article that I will be talking about covers just that. For many students, establishing a sense of belonging contributes to help advance students’ self-advocacy, mastery of the student role, and social relationships.

This research article caught my attention because I wanted to decrease any ignorance and curiosity that I had by reading about a research that covered the three traits of how most students with invisible disabilities obtain a sense of belonging at a university. In this research they sought to see what self-advocacy and belonging meant to those with disabilities. The findings were clear. Annemarie Vaccaro and colleagues (2015) interviewed some students with invisible disabilities to find out if they gained a sense of association by their ability to self-advocate, their need to master the student role, and thirdly to develop their social relationships. They were able to show that this was true by showing a theoretical model of it. In one conducted interview, a student was able to acknowledge her specific needs that she needed by being able to understand her disability, while being able to self-advocate for herself. (679). Some of those needs included; exercise, therapy regimen. All of these strategies helped her feel a part of the college community. We all know that working hard to get good grades is something that comes along with being a college student. The researchers came to find out that when these students with invisible disabilities had a sense of the “college student role” they felt like every other college student in their class, therefore can be looked upon as a student who wants to reach academic success. Students in college that were able to find social relationships with peers, with or without a disability found to have more of a sense of inclusion. Overall, research concludes to find that they want to feel like an average college student whose goal is like everyone else’s: to graduate.

If you want to learn more about this social science research you can click on the reference and see in detail the theoretical model, that breaks down the process for which students with disabilities developed a sense of belonging. The importance of making sure that a student is academically successful is just as important as recognizing them as legitimate students who can do whatever they set their mind to.


Vaccaro, A., Daly-Cano, Meada., & Newman, Barbara, M. (2015). “A Sense of Belonging Among College Students With Disabilities: An Emergent Theoretical Model.” Journal of College Student Development, 56(7), 670-686. 


As the sister of a teenager with disabilities, I find it very important for society to understand how they can often feel out of place. This post made me think about how she might feel at school and if she has the ability to self-advocate. She often mentions how she does not belong in high school because she learns at a slower pace than students her age. My parents and I try to help her with school work; however, I wonder how she feels having to work harder when she’s in class. I found it interesting to learn about the student who found a way to belong in college. It is important for me to know that the student became fully aware of her disability and how she figured out what she needed to help herself in school and with friends. I can possibly help my sister with this. Maybe she will be better prepared for what her future holds. In my class about Race and Racism, we were taught how children can notice whiteness as a norm in society. In the case of people with a disability, their norm is someone without one. We were also taught how teaching a child about race and racism at a young age can help them prevent or/and cope with racism in their future. Similar to my class, this post stated how learning and understanding a disability can allow those with one cope with it and those without it prevent discrimination towards disabilities. I will be reading the research article to see if there is anything that can help my sister.

What first drew me to this post was the title. For as far as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher for the simple reason that I love children and adore the idea of being part of their life not only as their teacher but potentially as their role model. Therefore, this title caught my attention. As a student myself, I realise that sometimes some students have a harder time integrating the class and little attention is given to them, most likely because very few people are aware of their potential invisible disabilities. I found it interesting when you said that students that were able to self-advocate were often the ones that felt like they fit in. The idea of being able to talk for themselves made them feel like they truly fit I with their peers as well as in the college environment. In a way I believe that this makes sense, because most students in college speak out for themselves regardless of the issue thus being able to speak up and not stay alone must allow a strong sense of belonging. When you mentioned the idea of developing a sense of belonging for students who had invisible disabilities it made me think of the man box. The man box represents all that is expected by men; do not cry, do not be afraid, do not be like a girl etc. yet not all men are strong, tall, cold hearted and in love with their cars. Thus, how do these men develop a sense of belonging? Similar to these students how do these men manage to feel included in their society? I believe that no matter who you are and what you do, the minute you set foot in a place people automatically have set expectations for you and sometimes for some reasons it I hard to live up to these expectations. Therefore, I believe that the researches of this article are right, I believe that when one can self-advocate regardless of their age, disability or personality they will find a sense of belonging because they will now have a chance to let the world see who they really are rather than the expectations that they are asked to fulfilled.

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