In 1992, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, I founded DO-IT at the University of Washington. DO-IT has grown from that seed into a collection of projects and programs that help young people with disabilities successfully pursue college and careers, using technology as an empowering tool. The disabilities of participants in DO-IT programs include sensory impairments, mobility impairments, attention deficits, and learning disabilities. DO-IT also helps educators, technology staff, librarians, and employers create academic offerings, information resources, and employment opportunities that are accessible to people with disabilities. (Burgstahler, 2006a, 2003a; Kim-Rupnow & Burgstahler, 2004).

My motivation to create DO-IT drew from both personal and professional experiences. My relationship with a family friend who was developmentally disabled taught me at a young age that no single set of criteria should be used to measure success. From my years as a middle and high school teacher I gained insight into the challenges teens face as they move toward adult life and the corresponding challenges caring adults face as they try to help them on this journey. Personal experiences with young people and adults with disabilities taught me that the low expectations and negative attitudes of others create the greatest barriers to success for people with disabilities and that facing the challenge of a disability is too often an isolating experience. My close relationship with a child who is quadriplegic revealed the doors that can be opened with assistive technology, telecommunications, and alternative strategies for reaching goals. My roles as an aunt and as a mother created my greatest interest in exploring how we can help children define success for themselves and develop the beliefs, attitudes, and skills they need to set and reach these goals.

DO-IT is a collection of projects and programs to increase the number of people with disabilities who:

  • use technology as an empowering tool
  • communicate with peers and mentors in a supportive electronic community
  • develop self-determination skills
  • succeed in postsecondary education and employment
  • pursue careers that were once considered unavailable to them, such as science and engineering
  • have opportunities to participate and contribute in all aspects of life

Life Stages of DO-IT Participants

Level Participants
High School DO-IT Scholars
DO-IT Pals
College DO-IT Ambassadors
DO-IT Mentors
Careers DO-IT Ambassadors
DO-IT Mentors

Most of the stories and advice presented in this book belong to DO-IT Scholars, Pals, Ambassadors, and Mentors. DO-IT Scholars are college-bound high school students with disabilities who are self-motivated, are successful in school, and show leadership potential. Their disabilities include mobility impairments, visual impairments, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, speech impairments, and health impairments. Scholars attend at least two residential Summer Study programs at the University of Washington in Seattle. They are introduced to college life, resources, and academic studies and develop self-determination skills. They participate in internships and other work-based learning experiences that prepare them for career success.

With computers and assistive technology, they use the Internet to access information and communicate with others in a stimulating electronic community. High school graduates who continue to participate as DO-IT Scholar alumni become DO-IT Ambassadors. As Ambassadors, they mentor younger Scholars and contribute to DO-IT efforts in many ways. The community also includes DO-IT Mentors—other college students, faculty, and professionals in a wide variety of fields, many of whom have disabilities themselves. DO-IT Pals, college-bound teens with disabilities from around the world who wish to participate in our online mentoring community, have joined the DO-IT family as well. The success of this approach where young people and adults share their views in a mentoring community motivated me to include the perspectives of a large group of people with disabilities in this book.

During the more than a dozen years I have initiated and directed DO-IT's successful electronic community, I have often been asked by other program directors how to design and support their participants through similar online interactions. It is easy to describe the basic scheme. But attention to myriad details and ongoing operations makes the system work. This book shares both the process and examples of the content of DO-IT's electronic community in a way that lessons learned can be applied in other circumstances and with different audiences. The fact that our participants have disabilities, for example, is just one characteristic of our target audience. The basic concepts and activities can be tailored to any group of teens, or, with some modifications, they can be used with younger students, with adults, or with students from other groups facing special challenges due to racial/ethnic background, gender, or socioeconomic status.