Accessible Student Services: Comprehensive Presentation


After this presentation, staff and administrators will be able to:

  • summarize rights, responsibilities, potential contributions, and needs of students with disabilities
  • describe departmental and individual legal rights and responsibilities for ensuring equal access and opportunities for all students in campus programs and services
  • list universal design strategies and describe typical accommodations for students with disabilities
  • describe campus resources available to assist in the provision of accommodations to students with disabilities
  • list actions that individuals and departments can take to ensure that students with disabilities have access to campus services equal to that of their nondisabled peers


Approximately 1-2 hours; content can be expanded and covered over several meetings.


Student services administrator or support staff or staff from the disability services office. Experience working with students with disabilities is required. This comprehensive presentation may be copresented with or presented by a staff member of a campus unit responsible for providing accommodations for students with disabilities.


Equipment and Tools

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handouts.
  2. Facilitate introductions.
  3. Introduce topic.
  4. Introduce and play video.
  5. Hold discussion on universal design and typical disability-related accommodations for facilities, services, and resources.
  6. Discuss department/campus issues and resources.
  7. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation for this presentation, consult The Student Services Conference Room at

Accessible to Student Services: Comprehensive Presentation Sample Script

Today we will discus strategies that can help you make your campus service accessible to all students, including students with disabilities.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue postsecondary educational opportunities, the accessibility of recruiting and admissions offices, registration, financial aid, libraries, housing and residential life, computer labs, tutoring and learning centers, and other student services is of increasing importance. The goal is simply equal access; everyone who needs to use your services should be able to do so comfortably and efficiently.

The objectives of this presentation are for you to gain knowledge about rights, responsibilities, and needs of students with disabilities and of the institution, strategies for working with students who have disabilities, and campus resources.

Postsecondary Enrollment of Students with Disabilities

The number of individuals with disabilities seeking postsecondary education has increased significantly in recent years. Reasons cited for this increase include the following:

  • advances in medical technology and techniques resulting in greater numbers of people who survive traumatic accidents and problematic births;
  • improvements in technology making it possible for more people with disabilities to live independently and have productive lives;
  • federal and state mandates for precollege academic support programs helping more students with disabilities complete high school and consider postsecondary education options; and
  • publicity of federal disability-related legislation increasing awareness of rights to accommodation and equal opportunities in education and employment.

The probability that a student with a disability will use your campus service is quite high. In a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (1999), 6% of all undergraduates reported having a disability. In this group, 46% reported having a learning disability, 14% reported an orthopedic or mobility impairment, 8% reported mental illness or emotional disability, 6% reported being deaf or hard of hearing, 4% reported visual impairments, and 9% reported a speech impairment.

Staff who are familiar with disability access issues are better prepared to make arrangements that will ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to access their programs and services.

Today we will go over our legal rights and responsibilities, universal design strategies, examples of accommodation strategies, and resources available to help you work with students who have disabilities. We'll also discuss the specific challenges in our department in working with students who have disabilities and explore strategies for improving access. Your handout Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Services (or other handout) provides an overview of legal rights and responsibilities; examples of universal design and accommodation strategies for your service unit; and a list of resources available on campus to assist us in our efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all students.

Disability Legislation

Let's begin with our legal obligations. 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. This means that campus services and information resources, as well as academic offerings, must be accessible to qualified students with disabilities.

What does a person with a disability who is "otherwise qualified" mean? "Otherwise qualified" with respect to postsecondary educational services refers to "a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the program or activity, with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies, or practices; the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services." In other words, a person who has a disability is "otherwise qualified" if he can perform the essential tasks of a program or assignment when reasonable accommodations are made. All of the students with disabilities enrolled in out institution are covered under federal legislation and are therefore entitled to use services to which their peers without disabilities have access.

So what exactly does "person with a disability" mean? "Person with a disability" means "any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment."

Disabilities covered by legislation include but are not limited to spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, hearing impairments, speech impairments, specific learning disabilities, head injuries, psychiatric disorders, Diabetes, Cancer, and AIDS. Some of these conditions are readily apparent; some are not.

Students who have conditions with the same label may have very different abilities when it comes to performing specific tasks. For example, one student who has Cerebral Palsy may have difficulty walking. For another student, Cerebral Palsy may result in no functional use of her hands. For another, it may limit the use of his voice.

Ultimately, a student who has a disability requires accommodations only when faced with a task that requires a skill that his disability precludes. If a student informs a staff member that he has a disability and would like to arrange an accommodation, the staff member can ask him to suggest strategies that could eliminate or minimize access barriers. The student is the best source of information about his disability. Sometimes an effective solution can be found by thinking creatively about how the environment can be modified. Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives for traditional ways of doing things. Our campus disability service office can be involved in this process. For example, this office can arrange for sign language interpreters.

In summary, federal legislation requires that we accept otherwise qualified students with disabilities into our programs. We should work with students who have disclosed their disabilities to identify and implement reasonable accommodations in order to ensure that they have equal access to student services.

Staff and Students with Disabilities

Next we'll watch the video presentation Equal Access: Student Services (or other student service video). You'll learn about disabilities that may impact students' access or participation in your campus service, examples of accommodations, and resources. Teamwork between the staff member, the student, and the office that supports students with disabilities on our campus is key. The information covered is also included in the handout entitled Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Services (or other student service publication).

Universal Design of Student Services

Now we will discuss universal design strategies you can employ to make your facilities, services, and information resources accessible.

Universal design means that rather than designing your facility, services, and information resources for the average user, you design them for people with a broad range of characteristics. This includes people with disabilities, older adults, individuals of different races and cultures, people with diverse gender identities, and those who have different native languages. 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 will minimize the need for special accommodations for students and visitors who use your services, as well as for current and future employees.

Consider all of your potential visitors, including those with disabilities, as you plan services. Make sure everyone

  • feels welcome,
  • can get to the facility and maneuver within it,
  • is able to access printed materials and electronic resources, and
  • can participate in events and other activities.

Also make sure that staff are trained to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know who they can contact on campus if they have disability-related questions. With these key issues in mind, you can make your services accessible to everyone.

Consider the design and accessibility of these specific components of your services:

  • planning and evaluation,
  • facility and environment,
  • information resources,
  • computers and assistive technology,
  • and events.

Specific questions that can help guide you in making your services universally accessible in each of these areas can be found in your handout Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Services (or other specialized publication). We will discuss them together.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity as you plan and evaluate services. (Discuss each of the following items in the context of the audience and their areas of responsibility. You can also use the specific list included in the handout you have selected or this presentation). 

  • Are people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, students with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, young and old students, and other groups represented on your staff in numbers proportional to those of the whole campus or community?
  • Do you have policies and procedures that assure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities?
  • Is accessibility considered in the procurement process?
  • Do you have a designated staff member and/or committee who assures that services are accessible to students with disabilities and responds to requests for accommodations?
  • 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?

Facility and Environment

Efforts should be made to make your facility accessible to everyone. (Discuss each item in the context of the audience and their areas of responsibility).

  • Are parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building wheelchair-accessible?
  • Are all levels of the facility connected via an accessible route of travel?
  • Is there signage outside the building indicating which entrances are wheelchair-accessible?
  • 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 counter/desk at a height accessible to a wheelchair user?
  • 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 lighting adjustable by the individual?
  • 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 or facility rules (e.g., no cell phone use) minimize noise?
  • Are telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY/TDD) available?


Staff should be prepared to work with students who have disabilities. (Discuss each item in the context of the audience and their areas of responsibility).

  • Are all staff members familiar with the availability and use of a TTY/TDD, the Telecommunications Relay Service, assistive technology, and alternate document formats?
  • Do staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations, such as sign language interpreters?
  • Do staff members have ready access to a list of on and/or off-campus resources for students with disabilities?
  • Are all staff members aware of issues related to communicating with students of different races/ethnicities and ages and with students who have disabilities?

There are no strict rules when it comes to relating to people with disabilities. However, here are some helpful hints listed on the back page of your handout.

General Guidelines

  • Ask a person with a disability if he/she needs help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through the person's companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. If so, refer to the person first and then the disability. "A man who is blind" is better than "a blind man" because it emphasizes the person first.
  • Avoid negative descriptions of a person's disability. For example, "a person who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a person confined to a wheelchair."
  • Ask permission before you interact with a person's guide dog or service dog.
Visual Impairments
  • Be descriptive for people with visual impairments. Say, "The computer is about three feet to your left," rather than "The computer is over there."
  • When guiding people with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.
Learning Disabilities
  • Offer directions/instruction both orally and in writing. If asked, read instructions to individuals who have specific learning disabilities.
Mobility Impairments
  • Sitting or otherwise position yourself at the approximate height of people who use wheelchairs when you interact.
Speech Impairments
  • Listen carefully to individuals with speech impairments. Repeat what you think you understand for confirmation, and then ask the person with a speech impairment to repeat the portion of what was said that you didn't understand.
Hearing Impairments
  • Face people with hearing impairments so that they can see your lips.
  • Speak clearly at a normal volume. Speak more loudly only if requested.
  • Use paper and pencil if the deaf person does not read lips or if more accurate communication is needed.
  • In groups raise hands to be recognized, so the person who is deaf knows who is speaking.
Psychiatric Impairments
  • Provide information in clear, calm, respectful tones.
  • Allow opportunities for addressing specific questions.

What other suggestions do you have for helping staff members effectively communicate with people who have disabilities?

Information Resources

Assure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group and that information is available in accessible formats. (Discuss each item in the context of the audience and their areas of responsibility).

  • Do pictures in your publications and website include people with diverse characteristics with respect to race, gender, age, and disability?
  • In key publications, do you include a statement about your commitment to universal access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations? For example, you could include the following statement: "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 all printed publications available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text?
  • 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 specific project or funding source?
  • Are videos used by your service captioned? Audio described?

Computers, Software, and Assistive Technology

If used, make technology accessible to all visitors. Some student service units use computers as information sources. The organization need not have special technology on hand for every type of disability but should have available commonly used assistive technology. Assistive technology includes special hardware and software that allows people with disabilities to access computer operations and software. Start with a few key items, and add new technology as students request it. Purchasing the following computer products will get you started (Discuss each item in the context of the audience and their areas of responsibility):

  • An adjustable-height table for each type of workstation can assist students who use wheelchairs or are small or large in stature.
  • Providing adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users is important.
  • Large-print key labels can assist students with low vision.
  • Software to enlarge screen images and a large monitor can assist students with low vision and learning disabilities.
  • A trackball can be used by someone who has difficulty controlling a mouse.
  • Wrist and forearm rests can assist some people with mobility impairments.

What initial steps can be taken to assure that the technology in a service area is accessible to students with disabilities?


Assure that everyone feels welcome and can participate in events sponsored by the organization. (Discuss each item in the context of the audience and their areas of responsibility).

  • 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?
  • Is accessible transportation available if transportation is arranged for other participants?

We've discussed strategies for the universal design of campus services, focusing on five key areas. What other steps can be taken to assure that our campus services are accessible to students with disabilities? (Lead discussion.) What could be a first step in this process? (Lead discussion.)

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

Checklist Updates

The checklist in your handout was field-tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see To increase the usefulness of this working document, suggest improvements to

Accommodations for Specific Disabilities (optional)

(This optional section includes information on access issues and accommodation strategies for specific disabilities.)

Now we will review how disabilities may affect the ability to participate in specific activities or to access our information resources and what typical accommodations we might provide. I'll organize this discussion around eight disability types: low vision, blindness, specific learning disabilities, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, health impairments, speech impairments, and psychiatric disabilities. We'll discuss examples of accommodations. I emphasize that these are only examples, since disabilities and specific accommodations are unique to the individual. You, the student, and campus support staff for students with disabilities may generate many other effective strategies that are appropriate for that student.

(Following are examples of accommodations. The lists are by no means comprehensive. You may wish to substitute or add strategies that are pertinent to your audience.)

Low Vision

For some students who have low vision, standard written materials are too small to read, and/or objects appear blurry. Others may only see objects within a specific field of vision. Still others may see an image with sections missing or blacked out. Reading may take longer and may be more fatiguing for people who have low vision than for people who do not.

Examples of accommodations for students with low vision include seating near the front of the room when presentations are given, good lighting, and large-print handouts, signs, and labels. Other examples of accommodations include Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) monitors, enlarged printed images, printed materials made available in electronic formats, and computers equipped with software that enlarges screen images.


Students who have no sight cannot read standard printed materials. Students who have had no vision since birth may have difficulty understanding verbal descriptions of visual materials and abstract concepts. Consider the example "This diagram of our organizational chart looks like a tree." If one has never seen a tree, it may not be readily apparent that the structure of note has several lines of ancestry that can be traced back to one central family. Students who lost their vision later in life may find it easier to understand such verbal descriptions.

Ready access to printed materials on computer disk, in an electronic mail message, or in text on a web page can allow a blind person who has text-to-speech technology to use computers to read the text aloud and/or produce it in Braille. Some materials are best transferred to audiotape.

During presentations, clear, concise narration of the basic points being represented in visual aids is helpful. Other examples of accommodations for blind students include raised-line drawings of graphic materials; adaptive office equipment, such as talking calculators and tactile timers; and computers with optical character readers, speech output, refreshable Braille screen displays, and Braille printers.

Specific Learning Disabilities

Students with specific learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence but may have difficulties understanding content and/or demonstrating knowledge. For a student who has a learning disability, auditory, visual, or tactile information can become jumbled when it is transmitted, received, processed, and/or retransmitted. It may take longer for some students who have learning disabilities to process written information, making lengthy reading or writing tasks difficult to complete in a standard amount of time. Some students who have learning disabilities may find it difficult to process verbal instructions. Other students who have learning disabilities may be able to organize and communicate their thoughts in a quiet one-to-one conversation but may find it difficult to articulate those same ideas in a noisy environment.

Examples of accommodations for students who have learning disabilities include audiotaped meetings, captioned video presentations, and quiet work spaces. Computers with speech output and spelling and grammar checkers are also helpful for some students with learning disabilities.

Hearing Impairments

Students who have hearing impairments may hear only specific frequencies, sounds within a narrow volume range, or nothing at all. Students who are deaf from birth generally have more difficulty speaking and understanding English language structure than those who lose their hearing later in life.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may have difficulty following presentations in large rooms or when the speaker talks quietly, rapidly, or unclearly. Also, people who are deaf or hard of hearing may find it difficult to simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions, particularly if they are watching a sign language interpreter, a real-time captioned screen, or a speaker's lips. Discussion that is fast-paced and unmoderated may be difficult to follow, since there is often a lag time between a speaker's comments and interpretation.

Examples of accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing include interpreters, sound amplification (FM) systems, and captioning. During presentations, it is important for a student with a hearing impairment that you face your audience when speaking and repeat questions and statements made by others. Students with hearing impairments benefit when electronic mail is used for correspondence and discussions. Providing visual warning systems to alert for emergencies is a must.

Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments range from lower-body limitations, which may require use of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to upper-body impairments, which may result in limited or no use of the hands or upper extremities. It may take longer for students with mobility impairments to get from one location to another. It may be difficult for some students to manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen or pencil, type on a keyboard, or retrieve research materials.

Examples of accommodations for students with mobility impairments include wheelchair-accessible facilities; adjustable tables; equipment and materials located within reach; printed materials available in electronic formats; computers with special devices, such as text-to-speech systems and alternative keyboards; and access to resources on the Internet.

Health Impairments

Health impairments may not be visible (e.g., Diabetes), and they vary widely in terms of how they can impact a students functioning. Some health conditions and medications affect memory, mobility, and/or energy levels. Additionally, some students who have health impairments may have difficulty participating on campus full-time or on a daily basis.

Examples of accommodations for students who have health impairments include flexible attendance requirements, taped meetings, materials available in electronic format, Internet accessible services and/or resources, and electronic mail for correspondence and discussions.

Speech Impairments

Speech impairments have a variety of origins, which may or may not be related to other disabilities. Qualities of speech impairments include mild to severe word pronunciation and articulation differences, as well as variations in rate, tone, and volume. It often takes longer for a student with a speech impairment to speak and express himself.

Helpful accommodations and communication strategies in working with a student who has a speech impairment include the following: Allow ample time for communication, and listen carefully to what the person is saying. Ask the student to repeat a word or statement that you don't understand. Ask questions that require short answers or a nod of the head when appropriate. Written communication through note writing can be of assistance as well. Discussions and correspondence in electronic mail can facilitate communication. Ask the student to repeat a word or statement that you don't understand.

Psychiatric Impairments

Increasing numbers of students with psychiatric disabilities are pursuing postsecondary education. The National Center for Educational Statistics (1999) reported that more than 400,000 students enrolled in postsecondary institutions report having a mental illness or emotional disturbance. Functional difficulties related to anxiety, disorganization, or concentration difficulty may occur as a result of mood disturbance, cognitive changes, side effects, medication, or altered perceptions.

Providing a consistent yet flexible approach and maintaining a positive attitude with high expectations promotes success for students with psychiatric disabilities. Specific accommodations for students with psychiatric disabilities include use of a tape recorder or note taker during meetings, preferential seating near the door to allow for breaks as needed, and quiet work spaces. Structure and clear practical feedback regarding behavioral expectations is helpful for self-monitoring by students with psychiatric disabilities.

Discussion Questions

(Address some or all of the following questions).

  • Are you aware of situations where students with disabilities have used our services? What types of disabilities did they have? What accommodation strategies did you find to be successful or unsuccessful?
  • What can we do to make our services more accessible to students who have:
    • low vision?
    • blindness?
    • specific learning disabilities?
    • hearing impairments?
    • mobility impairments?
    • health impairments?
    • speech impairments?
    • psychiatric impairments?

Consider the following examples of modifications that enhance accessibility:

  • Visual impairments: Braille labels, large-print signage, materials in large-print and electronic format, assistive technology for computer labs
  • Mobility impairments: wheelchair-accessible entrances clearly marked and notices posted at each nonaccessible entrance regarding the location of accessible entrances; assistive technology for computers
  • Visual, health, and mobility impairments: hallways, service areas, and offices kept clear of obstacles

We should consider:

  • surveying facilities regarding accessibility
  • identifying and beginning the procedure to procure signage, equipment, and/or assistive technology
  • inviting someone from the disabled student services office or a group of students with different types of disabilities to answer specific questions and give us advice regarding appropriate accommodations
  • designating someone to find out if there are disability access activities currently in progress on campus that we can contribute to and/or learn from

Are there any comments or questions? (Discuss remaining service-specific issues.)

Action Plan (optional)

As appropriate, have the group or a smaller group develop an action plan for a service unit. Tailor the checklist in the handout to the specific service unit. Check off questions that can now be answered in the affirmative. Identify the items from the checklist where improvement is needed, identify priorities, assign tasks to staff members, and develop a timeline for completion. Consider using The Action Plan for a More Accessible Service Unit that is provided after the evaluation instruments in this notebook section.

Case Study (optional)

(Consider having participants discuss one of the case studies presented in the reproducible handouts on pages 83-100.) Each case study is based on a real situation on a postsecondary campus. It is presented on the front of each handout and the actual solution is presented on the back. Consider having presentation attendees meet in small groups to discuss cases and then summarize their discussion for the larger group. Encourage them to consider the solution presented as well as discuss alternative solutions.

Search The Student Services Conference Room at by student service areas or disability type to find additional case studies that may be applicable for your training session or develop your own case study based on a specific situation on your campus.


Today we've discussed the rights and responsibilities of campus service staff and administrators, disabled student services staff, and students with disabilities. We've also talked about universal design strategies for making our facilities, services, and information resources accessible to all students. Additionally, we've considered some typical accommodations for students with specific disabilities. Staff and students should work together to develop the best accommodation strategies. The ultimate result can be improved postsecondary education and career outcomes for people with disabilities.

Here are some resources that might be useful to you as you work to maximize access and participation for all students in your campus service. (Elaborate.)

For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit The Student Services Conference Room at

This resource was developed at the University of Washington as part of a nationwide collaboration of more than twenty postsecondary institutions. It provides resources to staff and administrators so that they can make their services and programs accessible to all students. You can link to this resource from ____ (Arrange to make the link from your campus/departmental disabled student services home page and/or from your student service web pages before the presentation).

Thank you for your time today and for your interest in finding ways to ensure that all of the students at our institution have equal opportunities to learn, explore interests, and express ideas.