Lesson 01: Introduction

Serving Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course

Course Purpose

In this course you will learn strategies for insuring access to students with disabilities for your student services. You will also discuss case studies and read answers to questions frequently asked about accommodating students with disabilities. The best accommodations for students with disabilities in higher education are unique to the individual and develop from a cooperative relationship between the staff member and the student, with the assistance of the campus disabled student services office.

Course Outline 

This course will consist of fourteen email messages and one evaluation from me, the course facilitator.

  1. Introduction
  2. Rights and Responsibilities
  3. Universal Design
  4. Universal Design of the Environment and Events
  5. Hearing Impairments
  6. Visual Impairments
  7. Mobility Impairments
  8. Health Impairments
  9. Learning Disabilities
  10. Psychiatric Disabilities
  11. Information Resources and Computer Technology
  12. Planning, Evaluation, and Staff Training
  13. Resources
  14. Conclusions

Course Evaluation Each lesson will include:

  • designated email SUBJECT heading
  • lesson PURPOSE
  • lesson CONTENT
  • lesson SUMMARY
  • QUESTION for discussion
  • WEB address for further information

Course Communications 

This course will be conducted via email. There are no face-to-face meetings scheduled for this course. I will send one or two email "lessons" each week to the participants as indicated on the "TO" line of this message.

YOU are expected to read and discuss (via email) issues raised in the lessons, as well as respond to comments made by other participants. Please try to send responses to specific email messages within 24 hours to the group in order to maintain cohesive discussions within the short time period between lessons.

Netiquette Note: The lessons will contain words in UPPERCASE LETTERS. In normal email messages, this is considered SHOUTING. However, for the purposes of this course, I am using uppercase for emphasis only, not for SHOUTING.

To initiate a NEW TOPIC to the participants:

  1. Type a short topic title in the "SUBJECT" area of your email message.
  2. Write your message.
  3. Send your message to the email address(es) in the "TO" line of this email message.

To REPLY to a message directed to course participants:

  1. Use the REPLY command in your electronic mail software, which will automatically copy the "SUBJECT" title from the original message to the "SUBJECT" area of your new message and direct your message to the email address(es) in the "TO" line of this email message.
  2. Write your message.
  3. Send your message.

Depending on the settings of your electronic mail software, the software may automatically copy the text of the original message into the message area of the new message. It is useful to have the original message included in the reply because it lets the participants know the context of your reply. You may wish to cut out some parts of the original message to help reduce the total size of the message you are sending, but be sure to leave intact the essential portions to which you are replying.

Send a general question to the entire GROUP; another participant may have the same question or may have experience dealing with the issue raised. One of the benefits of this course is developing a network of people, including me, with whom to share questions and knowledge. Direct messages that you wish to go to INDIVIDUALS to their email addresses only. Send messages to me at my email address on the "FROM" line of this message.


  1. To help keep track of messages for this course, you may wish to create a separate folder (if your email software allows this). You can then transfer those messages related to the course from your INBOX (NEW MESSAGES) area to the course folder.
  2. If your email software allows it, you may want to sort the course messages by SUBJECT after you've read them. This helps you follow the "thread" of the discussion for that SUBJECT/TITLE, in case you want to review what has been said about the topic.

This email-based course provides an overview of accommodations. For comprehensive information, consult The Student Services Conference Room, www.washington.edu/doit/distance-learning-course-serving-students-disabilities.

Course Introduction

In a recent study, the number of postsecondary undergraduate students identified as having disabilities in the United States was 428,280, representing 6% of the nation's total student body. The types of disabilities reported by these students were

45.7% Learning disabilities
13.9% Mobility or orthopedic impairments
11.6% Health impairments
7.8% Mental illness or emotional disturbance
5.6% Hearing impairments
4.4% Blindness and visual impairments
0.9% Speech or language impairments

(Source: An Institutional Perspective on Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Postsecondary Education Quick Information System, August 1999).

In this course we will discuss issues, etiquette, and strategies related to students with the following disabilities.

LEARNING DISABILITIES are documented disabilities that may affect reading, information processing, remembering, calculating, and spatial abilities.

MOBILITY IMPAIRMENTS may make walking, sitting, bending, carrying, or using fingers, hands, or arms difficult or impossible. Mobility impairments result from many causes, including amputation, Polio, clubfoot, Scoliosis, spinal cord injury, and Cerebral Palsy.

HEALTH IMPAIRMENTS affect daily living and involve the lungs, kidneys, heart, muscles, liver, intestines, immune systems, and/or other body parts (e.g., cancer, kidney failure, AIDS).

MENTAL ILLNESS includes mental health and psychiatric disorders that affect daily living.

HEARING IMPAIRMENTS make it difficult or impossible to hear conversations clearly or at all, access multimedia materials, and participate in discussions.

BLINDNESS refers to the disability of students who cannot see printed text well enough to read it, even when enlarged. LOW VISION refers to the disability of students who have some usable vision but cannot read standard-size text, have field deficits (for example, cannot see peripherally or centrally but can see well in other ranges), or have other visual impairments.

A disability may or may not AFFECT the participation of a student in your program. In postsecondary settings, students are the best source of information regarding their special needs. They are responsible for disclosing their disabilities and requesting accommodations. To create a welcome environment, include a statement on your printed and web-based materials inviting students who require accommodations to meet with you. For example, "To discuss access issues or request materials in alternative format, please contact [name, phone, TTY, and email address]."

Flexibility and effective communication between student and staff are key in approaching accommodations. Although students with similar disabilities may require different accommodations, it is useful for you to be aware of typical strategies for working with students who have various types of impairments. With this basic knowledge you will be better prepared to ask students to clarify their needs and to discuss accommodation requests.

Throughout this course, you will be asked to consider access issues and accommodation strategies. Consider all potential visitors to your service area, including students with disabilities. You will be challenged to make sure everyone can

  • get to the facility and maneuver within it
  • access materials and electronic resources
  • 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.

True/False Exercises 

  1. Students with mobility impairments form the largest group of undergraduates with disabilities. (T/F)
  2. More undergraduate students report having a hearing impairment than having blindness or a visual impairment. (T/F)
  3. Almost one-half of the students who report having a disability have a learning disability. (T/F)

Note: The answers to these exercises are: 1. F, 2. T, 3. T.


Please send an email message to the group, give a short BIOGRAPHY about yourself including your name, college, department, and (optional) experience in working with students with disabilities. Your email SUBJECT line should read: Access 1: INTRODUCTION.

Course Organization and Acknowledgment

This course was created as part of DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), http://www.washington.edu/doit/. The DO-IT Admin project applies lessons learned by DO-IT and other programs and researchers nationwide to implement a comprehensive professional development program for college staff and administrators. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education (grant #P333A020044). Any opinions or recommendations expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the federal government.

Further Information

To be placed on the DO-IT mailing list or to request materials in an alternate format, contact

University of Washington
Box 355670
3737 Brooklyn Ave. N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105
206-685-DOIT (3648) voice/TTY
888-972-DOIT (3648) voice/TTY
206-221-4171 (FAX)
509-328-9331 voice/TTY, Spokane office
Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

(c) 2004 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.