Access Plays Huge Role in College Choice

A new report from Ball State University also published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, investigated the college enrollment of students with disabilities and noted that access plays a large role in the selection process.

Entitled,  Pre-enrollment Considerations of Undergraduate Wheelchair Users and their Post-enrollment Transitions, authors Roger D. Wessel, Darolyn “Lyn” Jones, Christina L. Blanch, and Larry Markle,  examined the pre-enrollment as well as post-enrollment transition considerations of undergraduate wheelchair users.

Screen Grab Wheelchair College

According to the researchers, approximately 11 percent of students who disclosed a disability enrolled in postsecondary education, totaling 2.15 million in 2003 and 2.27 million in 2008.

The authors looked at the student’s decision to attend college as well as college selection factors. In addition, they reviewed the student’s adjustments from high school to college, academic and social integration.

The college decision process is similar to peers not using wheelchairs. But the decision for a student using a wheelchair to attend college is more complex because of the disability,” the report states.

High school students with disabilities receive significantly different assistance as a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) than students with disabilities in college receive, the report noted.

In higher education, students with disabilities must learn to advocate for themselves, a role that parents and others have previously filled in many cases. Although accessibility has improved greatly over the years, early planning is still necessary for college students who use wheelchairs. Such planning includes visiting classrooms beforehand to make sure that screens are visible, making sure bus schedules align with course meeting times, and determining if courses entail fieldwork in accessible areas.

The majority of students studied in this report and confirmed by their parents, noted that they had always known they would attend college. The fact that the students used wheelchairs was never a part of the equation in making the decision about whether or not to attend college.

Only one student had a different answer. His parents did not think he could go to college, but he told researchers that he finally was able to attend by pressing the issue and repeatedly posing the following questions: “What happens when you guys all pass away and what am I going to do then? Where am I going to get that care?”

Inclines at Universities disability ADA

The report found that the combination of accessibility and the student’s major played a determining factor in selecting the college. In addition, a strong office of disability services also played a factor in the decision making process.

In one example where accessibility played a role in the selection process of a college the report described the experience of one pre-med major. It said that he was advised to attend another university because of that institution’s better pre-med programming. But, he explained, that access was the determining factor for him telling researchers, “I went there for a visit and it was just a nightmare to get around. I chose accessibility over what was academically advised.”

Adding, “If I can’t move around the campus, it doesn’t really matter how good the school is because I can’t get anywhere. Accessibility has to be priority one.

Disability services was another factor in the college selection process and included references to wide availability of automated doors on buildings and on individual residence hall rooms.  Deciding factors also included a community where wheelchair users were visible and prevalent, one-on-one faculty mentorships, a student support group, local accessible transportation, and the director of disability services on campus. In addition, the study found that students preferred colleges which offer special housing for wheelchair users.

According to the study, accessibility features offered in various residence halls at the university should include:

  • push button openers
  • proximity card readers (instead of keys)
  • single rooms or suite arrangements, with just a few rooms sharing restroom facilities, and
  • restrooms that offer roll-in showers and adapted toilets.

The study listed several recommendations for colleges including providing accessible housing options for students using wheelchairs. The report noted that it would be very helpful for students to be allowed to move in early to have time to make any necessary adaptations to their living space and to learn to navigate campus before other students arrive.

Additional recommendations for colleges listed in the report were broken down in a news article published by Ball State University and include:

  • Create a well-developed disability services office with professional staff that can facilitate appropriate accommodations and also instruct students on how to be independent.
  • Invest in making the campus accessible to wheelchair users.
  • Provide regular training for admissions staff members on access to college and accessibility issues.
  • Provide multiple ways for students who use wheelchairs to become socially integrated.
  • The disability services staff and/or housing personnel need to provide information to students regarding attendant care, which many students need to live in a campus residence hall.

As a result, this study showed that college students using wheelchairs learned how to advocate well for themselves even though the transition is difficult for some students.

You can read the full report here.

(NOTE: Accessology is committed to helping municipalities, Universities and other public as well as private entities become fully compliant under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Accessology offers expert consultation services to develop ADA compliant Transition Plans required for TitleII entities under the ADA. If you would like more information, please visit our website at






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