Recruiting and Admissions

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

(Adapted from the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Recruitment and Undergraduate Admissions.)

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 website identifies

  • key access issues for recruitment and admissions offices,
  • disability-related issues with respect to admission policies and activities
  • resources for additional information

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) 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 and 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, the ADA and Section 504 have specific prohibitions on 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. Universal design means that rather than designing your facility and services for the average user, you design them for people with a broad rage 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 useable 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

  • get to the facility and maneuver within it
  • communicate effectively with support staff
  • access printed materials and electronic resources
  • fully participate in events and other activities

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 universally accessible. 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 services.

  • 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 ensure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities?
  • Is accessibility considered in the procurement process?
  • Do you have a procedure to ensure a timely response to requests for disability-related accommodations?
  • Are disability-related access issues addressed in your evaluation methods?

Physical Environments and Products

Assure 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.

  • Are there parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the admissions office 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 admissions office?
  • Is at least part of a service desk or counter in the admissions office at a height accessible from a seated position?
  • Does the admissions office have a telecommunications device for the deaf (TTY/TDD) in order to receive calls from individuals who are deaf or speech-impaired? Admissions is a high-profile office, and because it is important to communicate in a direct and timely manner, it is often appropriate that the admissions office have its own TTY/TDD. Is the phone number included in contact information for the admissions office?
  • Are there private meeting areas where students can discuss disability-related needs confidentially?
  • Is adequate light 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.


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

  • Do all staff know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations, such as sign interpreters, large-print publications, or sighted guide assistance for a visitor who is blind?
  • Are staff members greeting the public in person or by telephone aware of issues related to communicating with visitors and students who have disabilities? Consult Communication Hints for suggestions.
  • Do staff have access to a current list of key campus offices or programs that offer disability-related assistance in order to respond to telephone, email, or visitor requests for information or assistance? This list might include contacts for disabled student services, wheelchair-accessible transportation, assistive technology, accessible housing, and special types of financial aid.
  • Do staff have basic knowledge of accessible travel routes to effectively direct visitors with disabilities to the office and to other key locations on campus?
  • Is the office webmaster knowledgeable about accessible web design? Consult the video and publication World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design for further information.

Information Resources and Technology

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

  • 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 publications available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text? This includes admission applications and instructions, housing applications, and academic programs as well as the campus catalogue and other key publications such as academic department publications distributed by admissions.
  • Are key documents provided in a language(s) other than English?
  • Does the campus map include sufficient disability access information (e.g., disabled parking locations, accessible building entrances) to assist prospective and newly admitted students and other visitors with disabilities who are unfamiliar with the campus?
  • Are videos used by admissions and recruitment staff captioned? This applies to materials used on- or off-campus for exhibits, group presentations, or other events. Additionally, if videos about the campus are sent to prospective students, captioned formats should be available upon request and so noted in admissions publications.
  • Do electronic resources, including web pages and online admissions forms, adhere to accessibility guidelines or standards adopted by the institution or your office? 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 general information about making your website accessible to everyone, consult the World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design video and publication.
  • Do you ask vendors about accessibility features (e.g., captioned video, compatibility with assistive technology) before purchasing computers and software?
  • Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation to assist users 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 writs and/or forearm rests available to assist some people with mobility impairments?

Recruitment Events and Campus Tours

Ensure that everyone 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.

  • Are events that are sponsored by your office located in wheelchair-accessible facilities? Is the accessible entrances and travel routes clearly marked?
  • Is information about how to request disability-related accommodations included in publications promoting events?
  • Are procedures in place to ensure a timely response to requests for accommodations for on- or off-campus events? Common accommodation requests include sign language interpreters, alternate document formats, and accessible seating.
  • Does your listing of recruitment and outreach organizations and schools include organizations for individuals with disabilities? This list could include community independent living programs, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, high school-to-college transition programs, high school-high tech programs, the state agency or commission for the blind, and local chapters of the Learning Disabilities Association. Your campus disabled student services office can assist you in identifying local and state organizations such as these.
  • Does the admissions office have procedures in place to handle requests by visitors with disabilities for a special tour or an additional tour to get more detailed information about campus access features? These requests may best be met in cooperation with the disabled student services office.

Applications and Disclosure

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

  • Are you careful not to ask pre-admission questions or make inquiries about disabling conditions or accommodation needs?
  • Have you been careful not to impose limitations on the number of students with disabilities who may be admitted to the university or to an academic department or major?
  • In publications and on web pages, do you tell applicants how to request accommodations for admissions tests?
  • If an applicant voluntarily discloses disabilities on the application or appends disability-related information with the application, does the admissions office have a procedure to separate it from the applicant's file and place it in a separate, secure location where it can later be forwarded to the disabled student services office?
  • Do admissions counselors avoid seeking out disability-related information or accommodation needs when an applicant visits or calls the admissions office?
  • Are campus tour staff trained to act as sighted guides for individuals who are blind? The campus disabled student services office may provide assistance in this area.

Evaluation of Applications and Appeals

  • Have those who evaluate applications received training about disabling conditions, possible educational impacts of disability, and how these may be reflected in prior educational records? This is especially important if personal or educational impacts are discussed by applicants in applicant essays.
  • Do those who evaluate applications understand that some students with disabilities (e.g., learning disabilities, brain injuries, sensory impairments) may have received formal approval for course substitutions (e.g., for foreign language)? The admissions office should have an approach for handling these situations and communicate the review policy to admissions staff and prospective students. It may also be advisable to form understandings between two- and four-year campuses in your state, especially if there are existing articulation agreements between institutions.
  • If your admissions office accepts or considers appeals from applicants who have been denied admission, do you have procedures in place to give adequate consideration to those appeals where disability-related factors are involved?

Informing Applicants and New Students about Accommodation Resources

  • Do you describe disability-related services in admission materials so that individuals may seek out further information?
  • Does the admissions office and the disabled student services office have a procedure to inform applicants and newly admitted students about disability-related services? Some admissions offices include a separate tear-off request form that the applicant can send directly to the disabled student services office to request information. Similar information should be included in new student information packets. Students should be encouraged to contact this office long before their first academic term because it takes time to process disability-related documentation, and determine and arrange for accommodations.

Special Admission and Review Programs

  • Do you have special admission programs (such as educational opportunity programs for low-income students, or TRIO student support services), and are they equally available to eligible individuals with disabilities who do not meet regular admission requirements? Reasonable accommodations should be provided.
  • Do you have special admission programs or review procedures designed only for people with disabilities or for a specific disability group? Numerous campuses have these programs to which 1) applicants who are denied or not eligible for regular admission may apply or 2) individuals may voluntarily opt to apply for a special program and regular admission at the same time. There have been some Office for Civil Rights (OCR) cases involving complaints on the operation and practices of these special programs. Contact your OCR office for findings. Some such programs are acceptable so long as individuals are not denied the opportunity to apply for regular admission, are not required to participate in the special program in order to receive academic accommodations required under the ADA or Section 504, and are not required to pay additional fees or surcharges for accommodations. These special programs should work closely with admissions and disabled student services offices regarding communication of admission and application procedures, program operation, and provision of accommodations.

Orientation for New Students

  • Are orientation programs (whether operated by or coordinated between admissions, dean of students, or new student orientation programs) for new students accessible to students with disabilities? Consider factors such as accessible housing; accessible transportation if groups of new students are provided with transportation to off-campus orientation activities; and disability accommodations, including alternate format for print documents, interpreters for students who are deaf, and accessible seating.
  • Have peer leaders received training and awareness in disability etiquette and communication?
  • Do you have places on registration forms to request disability accommodation?
  • Is there a supplemental orientation program for new students with disabilities sponsored by the disability resources office? If so, is it also publicized by the admissions office in the publicity for the larger orientation?

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.

  • Do the admissions office and relevant academic departments have procedures in place to review these requests or applications in order to appropriately consider disability-related issues that may be presented by applicants?
  • In the re-admissions process, do you consider the possibility of future accommodations or changes in a student's disability (i.e., new or different medications) that would result in a different outcome for the student's success?

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following situation. When planning a student-sponsored event, what accommodations should you consider? Choose a response below.

  1. ramp to stage
  2. additional accessible parking spaces
  3. projection screen
  4. designated seating
  5. seating in the front row for wheelchair users
  6. ASL interpreters for attendees with sensory impairments
  7. programs in alternate format (large print and Braille)


  1. Ramp to stage
    Yes. Using an accessible ramp to the stage not only benefits those with mobility impairments but also creates more of a fluid movement in the program and lessens the risk of people tripping on stairs.
  2. Additional accessible parking spaces
    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 fixes. Work with the parking division.
  3. Projection screen
    Yes. Projection screens not only help those with visual impairments but also make the ceremony/event more visible for all.
  4. Designated seating
    Designated seating in the front rows will help accommodate guests with hearing or visual impairments.
  5. Seating in the front row for 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. ASL interpreters for attendees with sensory impairments
    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 to allow them to switch off at timed intervals. Placement of interpreters is also important. Putting them to the side of the stage where reserved seating for guests with hearing impairments are seated will make it easier for them to be seen. They should also be positioned close to the speaker.
  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.

The content of this web page is from Equal Access: Universal Design of Recruitment and Undergraduate Admissions. 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 post-secondary institutions nationwide by members of the DO-IT Admin team. 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

An electronic copy of the most current version of this content can be found in the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Recruitment and Undergraduate Admissions. 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 searchable Knowledge Base for questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.