An Adelaide woman is believed to be the first person living with Down Syndrome to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Australia.
Rachel High joined Flinders University’s Up the Hill program – which supports the participation of adults with a range of disabilities in the social and educational life of the college – more than a decade ago before earning enough points to apply for entry into a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in drama and screen studies.
10 years on, the 44-year-old is graduating with parchment in hand.
“I was nervous and a little bit scared because I had no idea what to expect from the university, frankly,” she told ABC.
“There was one guy — I’ll just call him ‘H’ — who didn’t really want me to be in his group, as such.
“That was the worst bit and I felt really down. I thought, ‘Why am I here?'”
Rachel’s mother, Miriam High, said that her daughter’s academic journey was just like that of “any other student” with “plenty of bad days and plenty of tears” along the way.
“We became her group study, if you like, so we took the information home, we helped her to expand it and to find the relevant stuff she needed,” she told the publication.
“We found ourselves going through a process of helping her to translate [academic language], understand it and then she was able to write the assignments.”
Rachel’s final research paper, titled Graduating University as a Woman with Down Syndrome: Reflecting on My Education was published in a peer-reviewed journal last month. In it she examines the university experiences of people living with an intellectual disability.
“This paper reflects on the experience of being a woman with Down Syndrome who completed an undergraduate degree at an Australian university,” the paper reads.
“This autoethnography is based on a year-long research project completed as part of my studies. I did a literature review about the experiences of other students with an intellectual disability at university. Then, I wrote about my own university experience.”