Why Accessibility matters


This page will introduce you to the reasons behind why accessibility is vital to our students’ and our institutions’ success. You will discover the reasons why accessibility isn’t simply about changing something for a person with a disability, but it’s an approach to instruction that benefits everyone

You have a choice as to how to engage with the material in this lesson. Remember, the key concepts are always addressed in the text content of each module. If you need more info or learn by watching, the videos and resources are great supplements.

 Read: People with Disabilities in Our Colleges

The Numbers

Students with disabilities make up 20% of the students enrolled in community colleges. The disabilities range from mobility/physical impairment to brain injury to blindness to mental illness. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the percentage of students between the ages of 18-34 that disclosed a disability was 19.4%, an average of groups ages 15-23 was 17.6%, 24-29 was 21.6% and 30 or older was 22.6%.1.

However, these numbers only represent students that have 1) enrolled at one of our schools, 2) disclosed that they have a disability, and 3) provided the necessary documentation to receive accommodations from their Disability Services Office. These numbers are an underestimate of the number of students with disabilities that we serve in the undergraduate and graduate schools. 

Beyond the Numbers

Many students may be eligible for accommodations but do not seek them out due to a variety of reasons (stigma, lack of documentation, or they are unaware of the resources available to them). You may not be able to tell who those students are because the most prevalent form of disability on college campuses is hidden/invisible disabilities (learning disabilities, anxiety, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, etc.)

There are also faculty and staff with disabilities, as well as parents and caretakers. Our colleges serve not only our students, but our community. They provide jobs, resources, events, and opportunities for continued growth and education. Disability touches every population and is very likely to touch each of us at some point in our lives. Currently, the CDC reports that 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. lives with a disability.

Accessibility does not just benefit people with disabilities. Think of it this way: Elevators allow people unable to use the stairs to reach the different floors in a multi-story building. But does that mean you must be impaired to use the elevator? No. If someone is carrying a lot of items, or they are running late to a meeting on the 25th floor, then the elevator benefits them as well.

Accessible course material works the same way. For example, a captioned video is not only helpful to a student that is deaf or hard of hearing, but it can help a student trying to watch the video in a noisy public space, or help a student for which English is not their native language. Designing buildings, or curriculum, in such a way as to maximize use for the most people possible is known as Universal Design (in architecture) or Universal Design for Learning (UDL). 

Simply put, making courses/content accessible is not about addressing deficits in our students;
it’s about good teaching/communication.

I strongly encourage you to watch the To Care & Comply video posted in the Watch section below. This video will allow you to see for yourself the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities and give you a sense of the challenges facing the students we serve.

1 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2017 (2018-070), Chapter 3.)

Watch: Accessibility in Higher Ed

To Care & Comply (11 mins)

A look at Portland Community College’s web accessibility guidelines and how supporting students with disabilities is a shared responsibility across the college. This video includes stories from students whose education is impacted by inaccessible web content and ways faculty and staff can improve online course materials to make course content more accessible.

A Personal Look at Accessibility in Higher Education (6 mins)

This video highlights the experiences of students and faculty with disabilities in higher education.

IT Accessibility (7 mins)

University presidents, chief information officers, and other IT leaders discuss the importance and strategies for making IT accessible campus-wide. (Also available with audio description): 

Hidden Vs. Visible Disabilities (7 mins)

This video is a great introduction to hidden disabilities and features a number of students discussing the challenges they face when their disability is not readily apparent.

Explore: Articles on Accessibility & Higher Ed