Design Schools, Report of Baseline Survey, 2001

In the spring of 2001, a baseline survey to get some preliminary information about schools of design and their experience with students with disabilities was sent to 72 schools of design around the world. The overall goal of the survey was to learn about the numbers of students with disabilities, school policies related to accommodations for students with disabilities, and the basic accessibility of the school. We hoped to identify faculty who could refer students to the new E-mentoring program that was in development, and also to assist in making connections between design faculty and staff from disabled student services offices. The survey questions grew out of the information and concerns identified in the prior research with designers with disabilities, as they discussed their collegiate experiences.

The schools selected were those with design faculty known to have some involvement with universal design. In collaboration with AHEAD, the Association on Higher Education and Disability, the surveys were sent to both design faculty and to disability services personnel. The faculty had been involved with one or more programs of the Adaptive Environments Center. They had either been participants in the Universal Design Education Project or had attended the Designing for the 21st Century International Conferences on Universal Design. AHEAD assisted by identifying disability services personnel who were AHEAD members, from the list of schools compiled by Adaptive Environments. The survey was also distributed from Adaptive Environment's booth at the annual meeting of AHEAD in Portland, Oregon.

We received thirty-eight responses from a total of thirty institutions. Twenty-two responses came from professors of design, fourteen responses came from disability services personnel, and two responses came from students who had been requested by their disability services office to respond to the questionnaire. Of the thirty schools reporting, eleven schools noted that they did not have any identified students with disabilities in their design programs, while nineteen schools could identify one or more students with disabilities in their design programs. We did not ask for information about types of disabilities, but followed up to learn more when we got a very high number. In these instances, the high number related to learning disabilities, except at one school that hosts an institute for deaf students.

In general, there was a different type of response from the disability services staff than from design professors. We infer that the more knowledgeable the respondent was with the actual design school program, the more critical of access issues the response would be. This may suggest a lack of communication between design programs and disability services staff of what would be required by students with disabilities to succeed in design programs. Notably, only one institution responded collaboratively with people from the design school and the disability services office exchanging information in completing the survey. Since one school chose to respond in this manner, we question why others had not done so.

The initiative for coordinating services seems to lie with the student in most, if not all, programs. We see a need to survey students to get a more accurate picture. There are two documents with more information available upon request. The Design Schools Survey Summary contains the survey, names of the respondent schools, numbers of students with disabilities by school and a summary of the subjective ranking of the accessibility of the schools. The Design Schools Survey Full Report contains responses to the survey, school by school, edited to protect student confidentiality.