Equal Access: Universal Design of Recruitment and Undergraduate Admissions

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A checklist for making recruitment and admissions activities welcoming and accessible to everyone

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D

The admissions office is the gateway to two-year colleges, vocational technical institutes, and universities, and it plays a central role in informing students and parents about campus programs and services. People with disabilities represent a significant and visible portion of those seeking information and admission. This publication identifies

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 civil rights laws and corresponding regulations, no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/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. Program participants, as defined in the ADA and Section 504, include not only current and prospective students but also parents or other individuals with disabilities who seek information or participate in recruitment- or admissions-sponsored activities.

Prospective and current students as well as visitors may have learning disabilities and visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Keep in mind that most students with disabilities have nonvisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, and health impairments. With respect to recruitment and admissions office policies and procedures, ADA and Section 504 prohibit preadmission inquiries about disabling conditions, and prohibit limiting the number or proportion of students with disabilities admitted or using tests or criteria for admission that have a disproportionate adverse effect on applicants with disabilities.

Universal Design

To make your admissions or recruitment office accessible and useful to everyone, 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 if they have disability-related questions.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making your campus service unit more inclusive. 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. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/equal.html.


Make sure staff are prepared to work with current and potential students.

Information Resources and Technology

Ensure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group that the content is accessible to everyone.

Recruitment Events and Campus Tours

Ensure that everyone feels welcome and can participate in all recruitment events and campus tours. If an event or program is sponsored by your office, publicize procedures about and arrange for accommodations for participants with disabilities.

Applications and Disclosure

Review your applications for admission to ensure that disability-related issues are handled properly.

Evaluation of Applications and Appeals

Informing Applicants and New Students about Accommodation Resources

Special Admission and Review Programs

Orientation for New Students

Readmission Requests or Applications

Some admissions offices and academic departments have a central role in reviewing readmission requests or applications from former students who were suspended or on a leave of absence.

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 this 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. 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 Student Services 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:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
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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, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2003, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.