Equal Access: Universal Design of Advising

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A checklist for making advising services welcoming and acccessible to everyone

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities at all levels, accessibility to student services, including advising, is of increasing importance. The goal is simply equal access; everyone who needs to use student services should have access to them.

Advising services are an important aspect of most students' educational experiences. There are many different kinds of advisors—faculty advisors, advisors in a specific academic department, general advisors—and they should all be aware of unique issues of people with disabilities and other groups so that they can communicate effectively and provide sound advice as students plan their studies. Considering how their disabilities might impact academic and career plans is essential to the success of students with disabilities.

Legal Issues

the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity. This means that student services as well as academic programs must be accessible to qualified students with disabilities.

Physical Distance and Length of Time Between Classes

Physical distance and time between classes should be considered when planning a course schedule with a student who has a disability. Many campuses are large and, for a student with a mobility impairment or a student who is blind, it can be difficult to get from one class to the next promptly if there is too little time between them.

Length of time between classes can also be a concern for a person with a learning disability. A student who is receiving extended exam time as an accommodation in one class should not schedule another class immediately following. Otherwise, the student will be late to the second class on days when there are tests in the first class. Having sufficient time between classes also facilitates learning by allowing a student to review the content presented and organize notes immediately after each class session.

Format and Time of Classes

An issue to consider for all students, but particularly for students with learning disabilities, Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is class format. It may be difficult for some students to succeed in several lecture classes in the same quarter.

Students with health or other impairments may need to avoid classes where attendance at every class session is essential; online courses should be considered. These students may also have trouble attending classes that take place at certain times of the day, such as very early in the morning or in the evening. Their advisors can help them develop appropriate schedules.

Universal Design

To make advising services accessible to everyone, employ principles of universal design. Universal design means that rather than designing your facility and services for the average user, you design them for people with a broad range of abilities, disabilities, and other characteristics such as age, reading ability, learning style, native language, culture, and so on. Keep in mind that students and visitors may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Preparing your program to be accessible to them will make it more usable by everyone and minimize the need for special accommodations for those who use your services and for future employees as well. Ensure that everyone feels welcome, and can

Train staff to support people with disabilities, by responding to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner and knowing whom they can contact if disability-related questions arise.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making advising services more accessible. This content does not provide legal advice. To help clarify legal issues, consult your campus legal counsel or ADA/504 compliance officer or call your regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate services.

Physical Environments and Products

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is inclusive of people with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.ada.gov/checkweb.htm for more suggestions.


Make sure staff are prepared to work with all students.

Information Resources and Technology

Ensure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group, are accessible to all visitors, and technology within the service area is accessible to everyone.


Ensure that everyone can participate in events sponsored by the advising office.

Checklist Updates

This checklist was field-tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html). The results of a nationwide survey to test face-validity checklist items led to further refinement of the checklist. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu.

Additional Resources

An electronic copy of the most current version of this publication as well as additional useful brochures can be found at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/. A 14-minute video, Equal Access: Student Services, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. An online version may be freely viewed at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ea_student.html or purchased in DVD format.

The Student Services Conference Room at www.uw.edu/doit/Conf/ includes a collection of documents and videos to help you make student services accessible to everyone. They include checklists for career services, distance learning, computer labs, recruitment and admissions, registration, housing and residential life, financial aid, libraries, tutoring and learning centers, and student organizations. The Student Services Conference Room also includes a searchable Knowledge Base of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.

Universal design principles can be applied to all aspects of your services. For more information about applications of universal design consult www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html or The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide. To receive a 20% discount, visit www.uw.edu/doit/UDHE/coupon.html.

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
509-328-9331 (voice/TTY) Spokane

Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


The contents of this publication and accompanying video were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, #P333A020044. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Copyright © 2012, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.