Equal Access: Universal Design of Financial Aid

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A checklist for making financial aid offices welcoming and accessible to all students

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities at all levels, the accessibility of financial aid offices and other student services increases in importance. The goal is simply equal access; everyone who needs to use your services should be able to do so comfortably and efficiently.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 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 postsecondary student services as well as academic programs must be accessible to qualified students with disabilities.

Universal Design

To make your financial aid operation accessible, employ principles of universal design (UD). 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, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages, cultures, and other characteristics. Keep in mind that students and other 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. Make sure everyone feels welcome, and can

Train staff to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know whom they can contact on campus if they have disability-related questions.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making your campus services universally 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 that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students, and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.ada.gov/checkweb.htm for more suggestions. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/equal.html.

Staff

Make sure staff are prepared to work with all students.

Information Resources and Technology

If your financial aid office uses computers as information resources, ensure these systems employ accessible design, that staff members are aware of accessibility options, and systems are in place to make accommodations.

For more information about assistive technology, consult the DVDs and publications at www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/at.html.

Events

Ensure that everyone can participate in events sponsored by your financial aid 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 of 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. It may be freely viewed online at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ea_student.html and purchased in DVD format from DO-IT. Consult www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ for access to other videos that may be of interest. Permission is granted to reproduce DO-IT videos and publications for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.

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 Conference Room also includes a searchable Knowledge Base of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.

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:

DO-IT
University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
doit@uw.edu
www.uw.edu/doit/
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


Acknowledgment

This publication and the 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, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2004, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.