How can engineering departments be welcoming and accessible to students with disabilities?

Date Updated

The group of individuals pursuing engineering fields is becoming increasingly diverse with respect to gender, race, ethnicity, learning style, age, disability, and other characteristics. Engineering careers are potentially open to individuals with disabilities because of advancements in assistive technology that provide access to computers and facilitate common engineering tasks such as 3D-printing or Computer Numerical Control machines for fabrication and manufacturing. However, the inaccessible design of facilities, software, curriculum, web pages, and distance learning courses continue to erect barriers for some students with disabilities.

When it comes to an engineering department, the ultimate goal is simply equal access. Everyone who qualifies to take courses within a department and anyone who is qualified to teach them should be able to do so.

Take in to consideration, the following:

  • Do you have policies and procedures that ensure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities?
  • Do policies and procedures require that accessibility be considered in the procurement process for software and other information technology?
  • Do policies and procedures require that accessibility be considered when departmental software is created?
  • Do you have a procedure to ensure a timely response to requests for disability-related accommodations? Is this content included in faculty and staff orientations and periodically in other meetings?
  • Are disability-related access issues addressed in any external or internal evaluations of your courses or services?
  • Is adequate light available?
  • Are there quiet work or meeting areas where noise and other distractions are minimized and/or facilities rules in place (e.g., no cell phone use) that minimize noise?
  • Do staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations such as sign language interpreters?
  • Are department websites accessible? 
  • In key publications, does the department include a statement about its commitment to universal access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations? Ideally, use the institution’s diversity statement.
  • Do video presentations used in courses have captions? Audio descriptions? Do podcasts have transcripts?
  • Is universal and accessible design incorporated into the curriculum of appropriate courses (e.g., requiring software or class projects designed by students be accessible to people with disabilities)?
  • Are labs accessible?

For more information, consult Equal Access: Universal Design of Engineering Departments and Equal Access: Universal Design of Engineering Labs.

For more information about integrating universal design, accessibility, and disability related topics into the engineering curriculum consult, Building Capacity to Increase the Participation of People with Disabilities in EngineeringUniversal Design in the Curriculum, and/or view the videos Including Universal Design in the Engineering CurriculumBroadening Participation in Engineering to Include People with Disabilities, and Disability and Accessibility in Engineering: What Can Educators Do?