by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

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

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue postsecondary educational opportunities at all levels, the accessibility of registration offices and other student services increases in importance. The goal is simply equal access; everyone who needs to use your services should be able to do so comfortably and efficiently.

Administrators and support staff in the registration office should consider how accessible their services are to all students on campus, including those with disabilities. Some access questions that may arise include "Is my staff knowledge and comfortable in dealing with students with disabilities?" "Are our web resources accessible?" "Are our publications available in accessible formats?"

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. This means that postsecondary student services, as well as academic programs, must be accessible to qualified students with disabilities.

Universal Design

To make your registration services accessible, 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 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 usable by everyone and minimize the need for special accommodations. Make sure everyone

  • feels welcome
  • can get to the facility and maneuver within it
  • is able to access printed materials and electronic resources
  • can 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 on campus if they have disability-related questions.

The following questions can guide you in making your registration services 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 included in registration planning and review processes and advisory committees?
  • Do you have policies and procedures in place that assure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities?
  • Do your procurement processes and procedures for software, technology, and furnishings comply with federal and state legislation (e.g. sections 504 and 508) regarding accessibility standards?
  • 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?

Physical Environment/Products

Assure physical access, comfort, and safety.

  • Are 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 maps available that designate accessible travel routes and building entrances?
  • 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, Braille, and 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 that is accessible from a seated position?
  • Are aisles kept wide and clear for wheelchair users?
  • Have protruding objects, backpacks, etc., been removed from hallways and aisles or minimized for the safety of individuals who are visually impaired or use wheelchairs?
  • When there is a need to meet with an individual who uses a wheelchair, is there an office or meeting room available that is accessible?
  • Are telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY/TDD) available?

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


Make sure staff are prepared to serve all students and potential students.

  • Do staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations, such as sign language interpreters and documents in alternate formats?
  • Are staff members aware of how to access accommodation or assistive technology resources (Braille printers, interpreters, large print, electronic text, speech output software, etc.) that are available on campus?
  • Are all staff members aware of issues related to communicating with students of different characteristics regarding race/ethnicity, age, and disability? (See Helpful Communication Hints).

Information Resources

Assure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group and that information 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 printed publications available in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text?
  • Are key documents provided in a language(s) other than English?
  • 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 office? Is every step of your online registration process accessible to people with disabilities? Section 508 Standards for Accessible 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.

Computers, Software, and Assistive Technology

Assure that the technology is accessible to all visitors if the registration office use computers as information resources. You need not have special technology on had for every type of disability, but should have available assistive technology that can benefit many people.

  • 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 students who use wheelchairs or who are small or large in stature?
  • Do you provide adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users?
  • Are large-print key labels 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 trackballs 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.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following situation. When you put your course listings and schedules online, which of the following are examples of access barriers that students with disabilities may encounter? Choose a response.

  1. Schedule is a graphic without equivalent alternative text.
  2. Timetable does not contain clearly marked rows and headers.
  3. There is poor contrast between the background and the font, or information is conveyed solely by the use of color.
  4. Systems don't allow the use of keyboard functions in lieu of the mouse.
  5. Online registration is the only option available to students.


  1. Schedule is a graphic without equivalent alternative text.
    Having a schedule that is a graphic without a text equivalent is a barrier because people who are blind and use screen readers will have difficulty. Screen reader software does not recognize graphics or images. Each graphic needs a text equivalent description. For more information about accessible web design and the creation of alternative text, see the publication and video World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design.
  2. Timetable does not contain clearly marked rows and headers.
    A course schedule in a table format that does not contain clearly marked rows and headers is a barrier because students using screen readers cannot determine the meaning of data in the cell unless there is a row and header label.
  3. There is poor contrast between the background and the font, or information is conveyed solely by the use of color.
    Poor contrast and the use of color to convey important information is a problem for students with color blindness or low vision or for users accessing information in poorly or brightly lit areas. With poor contrast, it will be difficult for users to distinguish between the background and the text. Information conveyed by color alone, such as using red for closed class and green for open classes, may be indistinguishable by users who are color-blind.
  4. Systems don't allow the use of keyboard functions in lieu of the mouse.
    Applications that rely on the mouse and don't allow keyboard entry are a barrier for individuals with limited or no use of their arms and hands and consequently are unable to use a mouse to access or enter information. They may rely on keyboard shortcuts or other alternative input devices.
  5. Online registration is the only option available to students.
    Students with limited technical ability or access to technology resources may need alternative methods for registration. Be sure that students have information about how to obtain assistance in registering, as well as how to register via phone, mail, and in person.

The content of this web page is from Equal Access: Universal Design of Registration. 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 webpage 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 Registration. 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.