Student Organizations

Case Study | Promising Practices | Q&A's

By Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

(Adapted from the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Organizations.)

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue postsecondary educational opportunities, the accessibility of campus services and student organizations increases in importance. The goal is simply equal access. Everyone should be able to access services and programs comfortably and efficiently.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, 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.

Universal Design

To make student organizations 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, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages, cultures, and other characteristics. Keep in mind that students may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Preparing your program to be accessible to them will minimize the need last-minute, unexpected changes. Make sure everyone can get to the facility and maneuver within it, access materials and electronic resources, and participate in events and other activities.

Train staff to respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner and know whom they can contact on campus if they have disability-related questions. Having a knowledgeable staff can make your resources more accessible. Consider having a training/orientation at the start of each semester, hosted by the disabled student services office.

The following questions can guide you in making your student organization universally accessible. Consider those that apply to your situation. Your disabled student services office may also be able to assist you in increasing the accessibility of your unit. This content does not provide legal advice. Consult your campus legal counsel or ADA/504 compliance officer regarding relevant legal issues. Consultation with your regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can also help clarify issues.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate student organization activities.

  • Are racial/ethnic minorities, men and women, young and old students, and other groups represented in planning and review processes and advisory committees in numbers proportional to those of the whole?
  • Do you have policies and procedures that assure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, electronic resources, and activities for people with disabilities?
  • Do you have a procedure to assure a timely response to requests for disability-related accommodations?
  • Are disability-related access issues addressed in your evaluation methods?
  • Are you planning a variety of activities that appeal to an audience with a range of abilities, interests, and perspectives?

Physical Environments/Products

Assure physical access, comfort, and safety.

  • Are there parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building that are wheelchair-accessible and clearly identified?
  • Are all levels of the facility connected via an accessible route of travel?
  • Are there ample high-contrast, large-print directional signs to and throughout the office?
  • Do elevators have both auditory and visual signals for floors? Are elevator controls accessible from a seated position and available in large print and Braille or raised notation?
  • Are wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well-marked signs available in or near the office?
  • Is at least part of a service desk/counter at a height accessible from a seated position?
  • Are aisles kept wide and clear for wheelchair users and protruding objects removed or minimized for the safety of users who are visually impaired?
  • Is there adjustable lighting?
  • Are window blinds available to reduce glare, especially on computer screens?
  • Are there quiet work and/or meeting areas where noise and other distractions are minimized?
  • Are telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY/TTD) available?

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal for more suggestions. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication.

Paid or Volunteer Staff

Make sure staff are prepared to work with all students.

  • Are staff members familiar with resources and alternate document formats?
  • Do staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations, such as sign language interpreters?
  • Are all staff members aware of issues related to communicating with students of different characteristics regarding race/ethnicity, age, and disability? (See Communication Hints).
  • Is the student organization webmaster knowledgeable about accessible web page design? Consult the video and publication World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design for further information.

Information Resources

Assure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group and that information is accessible to everyone.

  • Do pictures in your publications and websites include people with diverse characteristics with respect to race, gender, age, and disability?
  • In key publications, is there a statement included about your commitment to universal access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations? For example: "Our goal is to make all materials and services accessible. Please inform staff of accessibility barriers you encounter, and request accommodations that will make activities and information resources accessible to you."
  • Are printed materials within easy reach from a variety of heights and without furniture blocking access?
  • Do electronic resources, including web pages, adhere to accessibility guidelines or standards adopted by your institution or your organization? The Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology and the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are most commonly used. For information about making your website accessible to everyone, consult the World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design video and publication.
  • Are videos used in your organization captioned? Audio described?

Computers, Software, and Technology

Make technology accessible to all visitors. Some student organizations use computers as information resources. Staff members should be aware of accessibility options (e.g., enlarged texts included in computer operating systems). Your organization need not have special technology on hand for every type of disability but should have available assistive technology that can benefit many people. Start with a few key items, and add new technology as students request it.

  • Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation to assist students who use wheelchairs or are small or large in stature?
  • Do you provide adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users?
  • Are large-print key labels available to assist students with low vision?
  • Is software to enlarge screen images and a large monitor available to assist students with low vision and learning disabilities?
  • Do you provide a trackball to be used by someone who has difficulty controlling a mouse?
  • Are wrist and/or forearm rests available to assist some people with mobility impairments?

For more information about assistive technology, consult the Adaptive Technology videos and publications.

Events

Assure that everyone feels welcome and can participate in events sponsored by your student organization.

  • Are events located in wheelchair-accessible facilities? Is the accessible entrance clearly marked?
  • Is information about how to request disability-related accommodations included in publications promoting events sponsored by your organization?
  • Is accessible transportation available for events where transportation is arranged for others?

Check Your Understanding

Which of the following accessibility features should be provided for all student-sponsored events?

  1. Ramp to stage
  2. Additional accessible parking spaces
  3. Projection screen
  4. Designated seating
  5. Seating in the front row for all wheelchair users
  6. Sign language interpreters for attendees with hearing impairments
  7. Programs in alternate format (large print and Braille)

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Ramp to stage
    Yes. Using an accessible ramp to the stage not only benefits those with mobility impairments. It also creates more fluid movement in the program and lessens the risk of injury by tripping on stairs.
  2. Additional accessible parking spaces
    Yes. For a large event, adding additional accessible parking spaces for grandparents, parents, and others who need accessible parking ahead of time will cut down on last-minute adjustments. Address this issue for other events that are likely to attract a large group of individuals with disabilities, such as a computer fair that features assistive technology. Work with the parking division to arrange additional accessible parking.
  3. Projection screen
    Yes. Projection screens not only help those with visual impairments but also make the ceremony/event more visible for everyone. Take care to assure that all text projected is large and few words are included on each image.
  4. Designated seating
    Yes. Designated seating in the front rows will help accommodate guests with hearing or visual impairments.
  5. Seating in the front row for all wheelchair users
    No. Do not seat all people using wheelchairs together, since they may want to sit next to their ambulatory friends. Wheelchair seating should be provided in a variety of locations in the audience.
  6. Sign language interpreters for attendees with hearing impairments
    Providing a sign language interpreter is only required if requested by an individual who plans to attend the event. A statement in the program brochure should tell visitors how to request disability-related accommodations. If a sign language interpreter is requested, have at least two interpreters at the ceremony and allow them to switch off at timed intervals. Placement of interpreters is also important. Putting them to the side of the stage where seating is reserved for guests with hearing impairments will make it easier for them to be seen. They should also be positioned close to the speaker so that individuals with hearing impairments can view the speaker and visual aids in addition to the interpreter.
  7. Programs in alternate format (large print and Braille)
    Discuss the creation of alternate formats of programs so that you can quickly respond to requests. For a large event, it is a good idea to bring a few copies of programs in Braille and large print and on diskette.

For further information regarding accessibility for students with disabilities and a fuller understanding about campus disability services, contact the disabled student services office on your campus.

The content of this web page is from Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Organizations. Consult that document for the most current guidelines in a checklist format and to use as a handout for a presentation or meeting.

Additional Resources

The questions on this web page were field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide by members of the DO-IT Admin team. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@u.washington.edu.

An electronic copy of the most current version of this content can be found in the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Organizations. A short video, Equal Access: Student Services, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. It may be freely viewed online and purchased in DVD format from DO-IT. Consult DO-IT Streaming Video Presentations with Support Publications for access to this and other videos that may be of interest.

Consult the Conference Room Knowledge Base for questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.