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Beyond Section 504: satisfaction and empowerment of students with disabilities in higher education.

ABSTRACT: College and university students with disabilities were surveyed to determine their levels of satisfaction with accessibility, special services, and accommodations at their schools. In addition, students were requested to identify barriers to postsecondary education, improvements in services, and other concerns. Respondents generally, expressed satisfaction with the services that they had received. However, the majority indicated that they had encountered barriers to their education, including a lack of understanding and cooperation from administrators, faculty, staff,, and other students; lack of adaptive aids and other resources; and inaccessibility of buildings and grounds. Recommendations were made for improving the delivery of services and self-advocacy of students with disabilities.

* Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-112) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabling conditions by programs and activities receiving or benefiting from federal financial assistance, protection that was extended to all citizens with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 100-336). Subpart E of the rules and regulations for Section 504 ("Nondiscrimination on Basis of Handicap," 1977) addresses postsecondary educational services and specifically prohibits discrimination in the areas of recruitment and admissions, academic and athletic programs and activities, student examinations and evaluations, housing, financial aid, counseling, and career planning and placement. In addition, schools are required to make modifications to academic requirements and other rules that discriminate against students with disabilities, to provide auxiliary aids such as taped texts and readers to students with disabilities, and to ensure that social organizations supported by the school do not discriminate on the basis of disability.

It is important to note that Section 504 requires that programs, not environments, be accessible to students with disabilities. A school need not create a totally barrier-free environment, so long as it does not significantly hinder the participation of students with disabilities in a program when viewed in its entirety. Thus, schools have a tremendous degree of flexibility in the means by which they accommodate students with disabilities. For example, a class may be moved to an accessible building to accommodate a student with physical disabilities, rather than making all buildings on campus accessible.

Students with disabilities are enrolling in postsecondary schools in increasing numbers, and they now comprise at least 7% of all incoming freshmen (Bowe, 1987; "Report Shows," 1987), although the exact proportion is unknown because this is voluntary information. Since the issuance of Section 504 regulations, the research on postsecondary students with disabilities has generally followed one of two paths: First, postsecondary institutions have been examined, almost exclusively via self-report surveys, for their compliance with Section 504 and for the types of services and accommodations offered (Bursick, Rose, Cowen, & Yahaya, 1989; Marion & Iovaccini, 1983; Sergent, Sedlacek, Carter, & Scales, 1987; Trowbridge & Mannelly, 1987; Walter & Welsh, 1986; Williams, 1988). Second, many researchers have described the problems and postsecondary service needs for specific populations, including students with learning disabilities (Nelson & Lignugaris/Kraft, 1989; Vogel, 1989), physical disabilities (Alexander, 1979; Babbitt, Burbach, & Iutcovich, 1979; Fichten, Amsel, Bourdon, & Creti, 1988), spinal cord injury (Dailey, 1979), mental retardation (McAfee & Scheeler, 1987), and traumatic brain injury (Buethe, 1989; Savage, 1987).

As noted by McAfee (1989), this literature tends to be reactive rather than proactive. That is, the literature tends to describe how postsecondary schools and students with disabilities have coped with each other, rather than exploring means of improving services to promote success. In addition, a literature search revealed that few studies of postsecondary services (i.e., Schriner & Roessler, 1990) have sought consumer involvement, and none asked students to evaluate the effectiveness of their school's accommodation efforts, to voice their satisfaction with services and accommodations, or to make suggestions for positive change.

This study was initiated by the Board for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities (BRVD), which advises the Governor on service issues and needs. It was conducted by the BRVD's Technical Assistance Project (BRVD-TAP), a research, evaluation, and policy analysis division. We addressed the following specific questions:

1. How satisfied are students with disabilities with services and accommodations provided by Virginia's institutions of higher education?

2. What barriers, issues, and concerns continue to be encountered by Virginia's higher education students with disabilities?

3. How can services and learning environments for higher education students with disabilities be more accessible and responsive to their needs?



The survey respondents were 761 students with disabilities, enrolled in institutions of higher education, both public and private, in Virginia. A total of 57 schools participated, representing 12 of the state's 13 public 4-year institutions, all 29 public 2-year community colleges, and 16 of 17 private colleges and universities. Completed surveys were received from students enrolled at 43 of the 57 participating institutions. Population characteristics of respondents are described in the "Results and Discussion" section.

Coordinators of services for students with disabilities were identified through telephone contact and asked to assist with survey distribution. Follow-up letters provided additional details and requested an estimate of the current number of students receiving services. Coordinators' estimates of service recipients totaled 2,500 students. Each coordinator received enough surveys and return envelopes to distribute to current service recipients, and most received additional surveys to distribute as needed. The majority of coordinators elected to distribute their surveys by mail. The surveys were distributed over the course of two academic semesters, spring and fall of 1990. The 761 returned surveys represent a return rate of approximately 30.4%.


The survey instrument was developed with assistance from a large number of students with disabilities and professionals familiar with the key issues involved in the design and provision of disability-related services in higher education. Service coordinators from three schools, six students with disabilities at those institutions, members of the BRVD Education Subcommittee, and the Executive Director of the Association on Handicapped Student Service Programs in Post-Secondary Education (AHSSPPE) served as expert reviewers, providing suggestions and comments on draft versions of the survey form.

The final instrument included four parts: Part I requested demographic information of respondents, including gender, age, academic status, residential situation, and primary and secondary disabilities. Part II requested students to indicate accommodations and specialized services that they had used at their institution, and those they had requested but had not received. Part III requested that respondents indicate their satisfaction, by responses on nine Likert-scaled items, with their institution's efforts in a number of areas related to accommodations and services. Part IV consisted of five open-ended questions requesting that students (1) identify educational barriers they had encountered, (2) describe improvements in services they have observed, (3) suggest changes in their institution's program of services, (4) describe the participation of students with disabilities in formulating disability-related policies, and (5) express their concerns for themselves and other students with disabilities.

Data Analysis

Data from returned surveys were analyzed using the SAS statistical software package (SAS Institute, 1985). Frequency tables and chi-square (%2) statistics were computed for the demographic variables (Part I of the survey) to provide descriptions of the population. Results from Part II (services used and needed) are reported elsewhere (BRVD-TAP, 1991) and are available from the first author. Frequency distributions for each item in Part III (satisfaction with services) were calculated, then cross-tabulations and chi-square analyses were computed by disability status and by type of school. Responses on the open-ended questions (Part IV) were analyzed by coding responses as either an affirmative response to the question, a negative response, or no response. Frequency distributions were calculated for the total sample; cross-tabulations and chi-square analyses were then conducted by disability status and school type. Responses were also analyzed qualitatively, by identifying recurring issues and themes from the written responses.

Disability classifications were collapsed into four categories: (a) physical impairments, including cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, arthritis, head injury, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other orthopedic or chronic health impairments; (b) sensory impairments, which included vision, hearing, and language or communication impairments; (c) specific learning disabilities; and (d) psychiatric/addictive disorders, which consisted primarily of people with long-term mental illness, but also included people with chronic alcohol and drug dependency. Schools were collapsed into three categories: (a) public 4-year colleges and universities, (b) public 2-year community colleges, and (c) private colleges.

In cross-tabulations by disability status, any respondent with a particular disability was included, regardless of the primary or secondary nature of the disability. Because many respondents reported more than one disability, the total sample size for these cross-tabulations was greater than the total number of respondents. The rationale for using all reported disabilities in these analyses was that people with multiple disabilities would likely have used different types of services and accommodations, and information would have been lost had analyses been conducted for primary disability alone. For example, a person with both physical and learning disabilities would have equally valid comments and concerns regarding the physical accessibility of the campus and academic accommodations for students with learning disabilities.


Population Characteristics

Demographic characteristics of the 761 respondents are summarized in Table 1. The largest primary disability group was specific learning disabilities, followed by physical disabilities, sensory disabilities, and psychiatric/addictive disorders. Over a quarter of the respondents indicated that they had secondary disabilities, with physical disabilities reported most frequently as a secondary disability.

Statistically significant relationships were found in the following cross-tabulations across demographic variables:

1. Primary disability and school type: Respondents from private schools were more likely to have a learning disability, and those from community colleges were more likely to have a physical impairment. Respondents with psychiatric/addictive disorders were underrepresented among private school students, [X.sup.2](6,742) = 14.522, p = .024.

2. Primary disability and academic standing: Respondents with sensory and physical disabilities were more likely to be enrolled as graduate students, and less likely to be underclassmen. People with learning disabilities were underrepresented among graduate students, [X.sup.2](12,726) = 30.393 p = .002.

3. Primary disability and residence.' Respondents with physical or sensory disabilities were more likely to reside in their own home, their parents' home, or a relative's home than were respondents in other disability categories. People with learning disabilities were more likely to reside in a dormitory or other school-subsidized residence than respondents in the other groups, [X.sup.2](9,717) = 27.855, p=.001.

4. Primary disability and age group: Respondents with physical and sensory disabilities were overrepresented in the two upper age levels. Students with learning disabilities were more likely to be under 23 years of age, [X.sup.2](12,740) = 81.347, p < .0001.

5. Institution type and age group: Respondents from private schools were more likely to be under 23 than were those from other types of schools. Respondents from community colleges were overrepresented in the "over 35" age group, [X.sup.2](8,740) = 25.734, p = .001.

Satisfaction with Services

Table 2 presents information on satisfaction with services reported by the respondents, disregarding surveys with no response to an item or responses of "does not apply." Generally, a majority of respondents expressed satisfaction with accommodations and services; more than 50% of the respondents indicated on most items that they were reasonably or very satisfied. A no-table exception was the item, participation of students with disabilities in developing disability-related policies; 45.2% of the respondents indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied.

A substantial proportion of students indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied with the physical accessibility of new construction, but a smaller percentage indicated satisfaction with accessibility of retrofitted buildings and campus grounds. Over 60% of respondents indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied with the availability of special equipment and classroom, curriculum, and registration modifications. Nearly 73% of respondents were reasonably or very satisfied that their requests for setvices and accommodations were handled promptly.

Some differences in satisfaction levels were apparent across school types and across disability categories. On four of the nine questions ( 1, 4, 6, and 8), a greater percentage of private-college students reported that they were reasonably or very satisfied than did students at both 2- and 4-year public colleges. The small subsample of students from private schools, however, limits the external validity of this finding. A greater proportion of students in community colleges and private schools indicated they were reasonably or very satisfied with the accessibility of new construction, [X.sup.2](8,760) = 27.142, p < .001, than did students in public 4-year schools; a greater percentage of community-college students also indicated they were reasonably or very satisfied with the accessibility of retrofitted buildings, [X.sup.2](8 760) = 30 999 p < .0001 and the accessibility of campus grounds, [X.sup.2](8,761) = 33.946, p < .0001, than did other students. This finding is consistent with the high percentage of people with physical disabilities in community colleges. In Virginia, these schools are generally of more recent construction than 4-year colleges and universities, and therefore more attention would have been paid to physical accessibility in their design and construction. Community colleges, for the most part, also have smaller grounds and fewer buildings than other types of institutions, and are typically located in rural or suburban areas.

Across disability groups, differences in levels of satisfaction were also found, although some of those items are disability specific. A greater percentage of students with physical disabilities, who would presumably be most cognizant of architectural barriers in buildings and grounds, indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied on each of the physical accessibility items (1-3) than did students in other disability groups. A smaller percentage of students with psychiatric/addictive disorders indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied on five items (4 and 6-9) but their small numbers would preclude any generalizations.

Barriers, Improvements, and Concerns

Table 3 summarizes responses to the five open-ended questions related to barriers encountered, improvements seen, changes recommended, participation in policy decisions, and concerns of postsecondary students with disabilities. Students who did not respond to a particular question were disregarded in the percentage calculation.

Barriers Encountered. Over 86% of the students who responded to Question 1 in this section reported that they had encountered barriers to their education because of their disabilities. A significant relationship was found for responses to this question cross-tabulated by school type, [X.sup.2](2,604) = 19.749, p < .0001; students in community colleges were less likely to report that they had encountered barriers, and students in public 4-year and private schools were more likely to indicate that they had. Still, 77% of students from community colleges reported encountering barriers to their education. There were no significant relationships between responses to questions in this section and disability status.

Many of the barriers described by respondents were related to services and accommodation needs that were disability specific, such as architectural barriers for students with physical disabilities; limited availability of tutors and notetakers for students with learning disabilities; and for students with sensory disabilities, difficulty in obtaining taped or Braille material, readers, sign language interpreters, and other assistance or equipment. In addition, many students wrote that they were unaware of the services to which they were entitled or which were available, or indicated that services and accommodations were requested and received but were too little, too late. The following comments describe some of these barriers:

Buildings with no elevator or terrible freight elevators, inaccessible lab space, inaccessible computer labs, long distance between handicapped entrances in buildings.

No large-print text books, no large-print computer terminal, no V-Tech machine on campus, no large-print in library.

Not being able to get a tutor when I need one the most.

Inability to attend lectures or seminars or workshops pertaining to my course of study due to not being able to afford an interpreter.

Finding competent readers because students can make more money working at McDonald's.

Parking, traveling from building to building, retrieving books from shelves in the library, and crossing the highway to buildings on the other side of the campus.

An automatic door was installed on the front entrance of the school--this door is rarely used by students in wheelchairs because the ramp is extremely difficult and the handicapped parking is on the opposite side of the building.

Some rooms are so crowded with desks I can't get in the door in my wheelchair without someone rearranging the desks. The doors have plates that need to be hit to open automatically and I can't reach out and push the plates.

In addition, many respondents described barriers that were not disability specific. Those mentioned most frequently appeared to be a lack of understanding and cooperation from class instructors, professors, and other school personnel regarding accommodations and modifications that the students or the coordinator had requested. These accounts, if accurate, seem to show not only an insensitivity to Section 504 regulations, but also a direct violation of them. Illustrative examples include:

A teacher refused to teach me when she took over class because there was a notation by my name stating a learning disability. My account was never credited after I was told it would be.

The major barriers that I have encountered here are sadly very similar to the ones in secondary education--the lack of education on the faculty's part as well as the public on disabilities. I have constantly run up against misunderstanding and the unwillingness to accept LD as a disability. The typical response I get from a faculty member is that everyone has trouble with learning.

Told I was unfit to be a student because of my disability by a professor, although obviously qualified (I MADE THE DEAN'S LIST).

Professors that would not give me oral tests. I couldn't get anyone to transcribe my tapes.

My instructors think if I can't manage without any extra help, I can't manage in the real world.

As a visually handicapped and learning disabled student whose impairment is not outwardly evident, I have experienced everything from suggestions that I am being dishonest and requesting unfair accommodations... to veiled threats of academic retaliation.

My main problem has been the teachers. They don't know what I'm talking about when I explain my learning disability. One said I just had a "lack of confidence."

Sometimes the instructors would not allow taping in their classrooms.

Not all professors are willing to allow special accommodations come test time.

Some professors don't have an understanding of what a learning disability is and they didn't allow me to take untimed tests nor take them in [another] room.

Another type of barrier identified by a large number of students with disabilities centered on the social isolation, ostracism, or scorn they felt from their instructors and fellow students, either because of their disabilities or because they requested accommodations to which other students were not entitled. Again, some examples:

[The office of services for students with disabilities] left it up to me to work out a solution with professors. When we couldn't come to an agreement, I didn't bother contacting the services again. I don't want to force my professors to do something they wouldn't agree to with me; it would make me uncomfortable.

Attitude of students and faculty is extremely negative, especially when changes in room assignments are required.

Uneducated students and professors who do not know anything about my disease and who are unwilling to learn about it.

No sense of belonging... sense of not fitting in with the other students on campus.

Prejudice on the part of faculty and staff. The combination of required rest periods and my visual problems increase the time I require to complete assignments. I have not only received no support here, [but] normally 1 have been insulted for trying.

Breaking down the communication wall between the hearing and deaf students and teachers.

Other students misunderstanding my disability. They thought I was dumb.

Improvements Observed. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents indicated that they had observed improvements in services for students with disabilities during their educational careers. Those improvements included better access to buildings and grounds, more understanding on the part of instructors and peers, the development of services for students with disabilities, and the assignment of staff to facilitate services and accommodations. Almost all respondents who specifically mentioned the school's office or coordinator of services were very positive about the role this resource had played in obtaining modifications or accommodations. Illustrative examples include:

Anytime any student made a request or had a problem, the disabilities services office fulfills the request. They would actually ask us if we would like to see any changes or additions anywhere. Many more adaptive entrances and exits have been built for us. Willingness to make alternative accommodations because of the limited handicapped parking.

Automatic door openers for wheelchair-bound students.

Student groups growing, some modifications to buildings and growing awareness.

The improvement that I have seen with myself is that now I don't get as nervous as I used to when taking a test because my tutor reads the question out loud and I answer it.

Suggestions for Improving Services for Students With Disabilities. Nearly three-fourths of respondents offered suggestions for improving services for students with disabilities. Those suggestions generally focused on increased awareness and funding of services for students with disabilities; education of faculty, staff, and students regarding disabilities and accommodations; improving the consistency and availability of services; providing more and better located parking spaces for students with physical or health impairments; enforcing parking regulations for reserved parking spaces; and improving the architecture of buildings and classrooms. A statistically significant relationship was found for responses to this question and type of school; students from 4-year public schools were more likely to indicate that they would make changes to the program of services, and students from 2-year colleges and private schools were more likely to indicate that they would make no changes, [X.sup.2](2,507) = 8.56, p = .014. Illustrative comments follow:

I would make the [service' s] office larger. There is only one man that can help in my school of 20,000 students. That's not right.

I would provide more handicapped parking spaces and would also insist that every building had parking spaces available for disabled students.

The next building on campus should be designed with much more input from disabled students and professionals.

More support groups.

We need a system for instructing (enlightening) faculty members as to the problems facing students with learning disabilities.

I would like to see a tape library so that volunteer's time and services could be used more productively.

I would give better information as to where the elevators are located and easier accessibility to them. More room in classrooms to maneuver equipment through rows of desks.

First, there needs to be basic accessibility to both the physical and academic facilities and resources in use at the school. Second, professors and administrators need to accept the idea that students with special needs are not innately inferior and that in some cases alternative methods and sources of learning and assessment are legitimate and necessary.

Less posturing and more dollars applied to the facilities and equipment that the devoted yet overwhelmed learning center staff needs.

It took me over a year to find out there were services to help me on this campus. I would make this knowledge more widespread throughout the college community.

Support. Not all handicapped students are emotionally disturbed, not all handicapped students are sponging off the government, the work is usually harder for us, and we don't need to be fighting unnecessary politics as well.

The people providing our services should be in some form or mechanism accountable to us and they are not. They're doing us a "favor" so you don't criticize them or their services .... Part of the problem is that students with disabilities do accept services and service providers as a "favor," not a right.

Participation in Policy Decisions. Respondents were evenly divided on their opinions regarding the participation of students with disabilities in developing disability-related policies and services. Approximately half indicated that they felt students were involved, and half indicated that they were not. Many who stated that students with disabilities were not involved also indicated that this was due to lack of time, effort, or understanding on the students' part, rather than from exclusion. A large number of respondents also answered that they had no opinion on this question. The explanations given by the respondents for their answers showed wide diversity in the types of evidence used in support of their reasons. Illustrative comments include:

No, I do not feel disabled students are included in the development of this university's policy, because I never hear anything concerning this issue from our disability's coordinator nor on the news or in our school newspaper

No, I don't feel that students are included because there has been no information about new or existing policies passed on to the students. I feel that students have little or no input because they aren't asked to participate, just to accept the policies as they are made.

Yes, because students with disabilities can share their experiences and ideas to help the other students with disabilities who need help.

Yes, but I don't think students know how to get involved or they choose not to pursue their opportunity for working with the administration.

No, the administration does not involve students with disabilities in policy changes or additions for students. This is because there is a specific committee known as the 504 committee made up of faculty [which] assesses needs for the handicapped.

I am on the committee making these kinds of studies, feel school is attentive to those recommendation[s], but committee is just underway this spring, too soon to see full impact.

Concerns. An overwhelming majority of respondents (88.0%) expressed concerns for themselves and other students with disabilities; only 12% stated that they had no major concerns. For many, the pressing concerns were graduation and employment. Many expressed concern that they would be less competitive than their nondisabled cohorts because of low grades as a result of poor services. Many also expressed concern that statewide financial difficulties will mean fewer services and accommodations for students with disabilities, and perhaps even lead to closing down service centers.

My biggest concern is that students who have disabilities that affect their schoolwork, like myself, may have trouble completing their education in 4 years because of the needed reduced credit load. Some like myself may not be able to afford to stay an extra semester or two.

That funding for tutoring and support services will be cut.

I am concerned that some students will not succeed because of the lack of time the disability services can devote to the problems and issues that arise during a person's college career.

That funds will be depleted that this will stop improvements or repairs of facilities already in progress.

My major concern for myself and other students is that we don't give up on our education because of our disability. When you try real hard at something and fail, it tends to make you give

My major concern is that one day we will not be included because of our ability or disability; this concerns me, everywhere

Take our needs into consideration and let us know of other routes to take if they are available. We are serious about our education just like everyone else.


In this study, Virginia students with disabilities in higher education were surveyed for information regarding their satisfaction with the services and accommodations they had received, along with self-reports of the barriers they had faced in their educational experiences, improvements in disability-related services, concerns, and suggested changes in services to better meet their own needs and those of other students with disabilities. Because only students in Virginia's colleges and universities were surveyed, the findings may not generalize to students in other states or other types of postsecondary learning environments.

Summary of Major Findings

It is apparent that students with disabilities in higher education continue to experience barriers in their educational environment because of their disabilities and the response (or absence of response) of the school to their problems. In many cases, the barriers these individuals reported, such as inaccessibility of buildings and lack of services or accommodations, run contrary to both the letter and spirit of Section 504- regulations. Most ominously, students have reported that they had encountered resistance and discrimination from instructors and other university personnel, and stigma from faculty and students. Many stated that the office or coordinator of services for students with disabilities in their respective schools had made concerted but ineffective attempts to alleviate their distress or obtain needed services and accommodations. Most respondents indicated that they had seen improvements in services for students with disabilities, and the majority of students had indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied with the services they had received. Most, however, did not feel that students with disabilities were included in developing disability-related policies and services.

Greater percentages of students in 2-year colleges (a) indicated that they were reasonably or very satisfied with the physical accessibility of buildings and grounds, (b) reported that they had not encountered barriers to their education, and (c) indicated that they would not make changes in their institutions' programs of disability-related services, than students in other types of institutions. These findings should be viewed in light of the demographic relationships described previously. Because 2-year colleges had a greater proportion of students with physical disabilities, service needs would conceivably involve greater physical access within buildings and around the campus, a need that these schools meet because of their contemporary construction, size, and location. Also, because 2-year colleges had a higher proportion of older students with disabilities, who could presumably have a larger social support network of friends and family, those students probably may not expect or need social support from the community college.

There is widespread concern among students with disabilities that the gains made in recent years for students with disabilities will be reversed as colleges and universities face more and deeper cuts in operating budgets and personnel. From their accounts, it would appear that most schools' services for students with disabilities are straining under increasing requests for services and declining resources. Many of Virginia's institutions of higher education have only a single full- or part-time position devoted to arranging or providing an array of services for large numbers of students, and coordinators are often dependent on volunteers to perform essential and legally mandated services.


The students who were surveyed made a number of recommendations for improving services to postsecondary students with disabilities. Some of these are presented here to promote discussion among students, university personnel, and policymakers.

First, students with disabilities should not learn of the availability of services and accommodations by accident, or late in their academic careers after receiving grades that may not reflect their effort and mastery of course material. Postsecondary institutions should develop creative means of publicizing the rights of students with disabilities, advertising disability-related services, and promoting self-advocacy for students with disabilities. These means could include presentations during new student orientation, campus newsletters, a students' "bill of rights" posted in classrooms and other conspicuous places, and workshops for students with disabilities focusing on Section 504 regulations, obligations of the institution and its personnel, self-advocacy training, procedures for seeking accommodations, and grievance procedures.

In addition, students and their families can be empowered with knowledge of Section 504 and the postsecondary school's obligation to provide access, services, and accommodations before admission as part of transitional planning. The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990 (IDEA) requires that secondary programs identify transitional service needs for their students, including those for whom postsecondary education is a goal. During the transitional process, students and their families can select a postsecondary school based on its academic program, its accessibility, and its efforts to meet the individual needs of its students with disabilities. The service coordinator can then become a member of the transitional team.

A frequent barrier reported by respondents was that instructors and professors were unaware of or insensitive to the service needs and rights of students with disabilities. Many students reported that they had been denied accommodations that have been specifically mandated by the Section 504 regulations, even after following their institutions' procedures for requests and grievances. All too frequently, institutions gave priority to instructors' "class rules" over the legal rights of the students. Colleges and universities should take a stronger role in educating course instructors regarding disabilities and students' entitlement to course modifications and other accommodations. Special education faculty can take a leadership role in this process, serving as experts on least intrusive accommodations, providers of instructional resources, and arbiters of entitlement through testing or observation. Appropriate corrective measures should be determined and implemented for those instructors who repeatedly refuse to modify course locations, materials, and examination procedures to accommodate students with identified disabilities. Likewise, institutions need ongoing general orientation and education of the student body regarding the need for alternative teaching and testing methods for students with disabilities, which might help eliminate misunderstandings associated with accommodations.

Support groups and clubs for students with disabilities were often described as a high priority need. Schools that do not have support groups should make efforts to encourage and assist students to organize them and provide technical and facility support. In addition, schools should make efforts to include students with disabilities in formulating programs and services and establishing disability-related policies as required by law, through board and committee membership, liaison with support and advocacy groups, and focus groups or student surveys.

Postsecondary institutions should make every effort to provide adequate parking for students with physical disabilities, and to enforce handicapped parking regulations. Inadequate or inconvenient handicapped parking was cited as a major barrier by a large number of respondents with physical or health impairments, limiting their access to classes, professors, administrative offices, social events, and other activities. Efforts should also be initiated to heighten the awareness of the student body, faculty, and staff concerning the essential need for reserved spaces, and consequences for violations.

Whereas the provision of specialized services and accommodations is best done based on individual needs, some level of consistency across and within institutions of higher education is needed. Many students stated that obtaining needed services or accommodations was a continuous struggle because they were required to prove their entitlement to services each semester. Also, many indicated that available services were not adequately delineated or advertised or had to be "negotiated" with reluctant instructors. The significance of these accounts is clear: For too many students with disabilities, the availability of legally mandated services and accommodations is far too dependent on factors unrelated to need and entitlement. Accommodations or services may or may not be available, depending on which institution a student attends, how agreeable the instructor may be, and how persistent the student is in pursuing needed services and accommodations. Ultimately, when policies regarding services for students with disabilities are so ambiguous, the legal rights of the students are being abrogated.


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MICHAEL WEST, Research Associate, JOHN KREGEL, Project Director, ELIZABETH E. GETZEL, Project Coordinator, and MING ZHU, Programmer/Analyst, Board for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities, Technical Assistance Project (BRVD-TAP), Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. SHYLA M. IPSEN (CEC #271 ), Coordinator of Services for Students with Disabilities, Office of Academic Support, E. DAVIS MARTIN, Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.

The BRVD-TAP is supported by a grant from the Board for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Jane Jarrow, Carlyle Ramsey, Darcy Davies, Regina Brown, Nancy Savold, Darlene Unger, LuAnn Brown, Debra Edwards, and Stacy Dymond, all of whom contributed their expertise, time, and effort to this project.

Manuscript received August 1991; revision accepted January 1992.
 Demographic Characteristics of Sample (N= 761)
Item Percent
1. Academic standing
 Freshman 24.8
 Sophomore 27.5
 Junior 17.6
 Senior 21.3
 Graduate/other 8.7
2. Sex
 Male 47.3
 Female 52.7
3. Age
 Under 23 56.9
 23-25 13.3
 26-30 10.9
 31-35 5.8
 Over 35 13.0
4. Current residence
 Own home/apartment 40.3
 Parents/relative 32.5
 Dorm/school-sponsored apartment 26.1
 Other 1.1
5. Primary disabilities of respondents
 Physical impairments 30.6
 Sensory impairments 19.8
 Specific learning disability 46.0
 Psychiatric/addictive disorder 3.6
6. Secondary disabilities of respondents
 Percent reporting a secondary disability 22.8
 Percent reporting 3 or more disabilities 7.7
 Frequencies of secondary disabilities reported
 Physical 60.5
 Sensory impairment 23.9
 Learning disability 11.1
 Psychiatric/addictive disorder 4.5
7. Types of schools attended by respondents
 Public 4-year college or university 63.5
 2-year community college 29.8
 Private college 6.7
 Percentage of Respondents Reporting That They are Reasonably
or Very Satisfied in Response to Various Questions
1. How satisfied are you with the physical accessibility
 of public-use areas in new campus construction 70.5
2. How satisfied are you with the physical accessibility
 modifications that have been made for public-use areas
 in older campus buildings? 57.6
3. How satisfied are you with your school's efforts to
 increase the accessibility of the campus grounds
 (i.e., curb cuts, etc.)? 65.7
4. How satisfied are you with the availability of special
 equipment or other academic aids at your school? 60.4
5. How satisfied are you with the availability of
 classroom, curriculum, or registration
 accommodations and modifications? 68.6
6. For accommodations which you have requested and
 received, how satisfied are you that your request
 was handled promptly? 72.9
7. How satisfied are you with the participation of
 students with disabilities in developing
 disability-related policies and services? 45.2
8. How satisfied are you with your school's faculty in
 making accommodations or modifications to meet
 your needs? 61.7
9. How satisfied are you with the coordination of
 services (i.e., vocational rehabilitation, university
 services) at your school? 66.0
Summary of Responses to Miscellaneous Questions
Question Percent
1. What major barriers have you encountered during
 your postsecondary education as a result of
 being a student with a disability?
 Percent indicating they have encountered barriers: 86.4
 Percent indicating no barriers: 13.6
2. What improvements in services for students with
 disabilities have you seen during your postsecondary
 educational experiences?
 Percent indicating improvements: 64.8
 Percent indicating no improvements: 35.2
3. What would you change about your school's program of
 services for students with disabilities?
 Percent suggesting changes: 74.6
 Percent indicating no changes necessary: 25.4
4. Do you feel that students with disabilities are
 included in setting policies, developing service
 options, or in assessing needs of students with
 disabilities at your school?
 Percent indicating students are involved: 50.8
 Percent indicating students not involved: 49.2
5. What are the major concerns for yourself and
 other students with disabilities at your school?
 Percent expressing concerns: 88.0
 Percent indicating no concerns: 12.0
COPYRIGHT 1993 Council for Exceptional Children
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Author:West, Michael; Kregel, John; Getzel, Elizabeth E.; Zhu Ming; Ipsen, Shyla M.; Martin, E. Davis
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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