Guidelines to Establish an Office of Student Accessibility Services in Higher Education Institutions
- To provide guidance to design and implement an office of SAS in HEIs without these kinds of services.
- To offer information useful to manage and operate an office of SAS in HEIs.
- Facilitate access to university studies for pre-university students with disabilities;
- Provide information, training, and support to the university community in the effective application of inclusion policies and regulations for people with disabilities;
- Offer resources and academic advice to students with special educational needs derived from their disability;
- Guarantee accessibility to university spaces including virtual information, services, and learning;
- Collaborate with different institutional levels in the university, as well as with external organizations and entities to improve the effectiveness of the services;
- Collaborate and contribute to the labor insertion of students with disabilities and observe contract regulations in favor of people with disabilities during students’ recruitment;
- Promote awareness in the university environment regarding people with disabilities;
- Update knowledge through training programs for those professionals in the public and private sectors who care for people with disabilities.
- The service operates directly as a unit, office, or internal/specific area in the university. Although this is the most common form of operation, it can also be operated through a foundation, or as a shared task between two or more offices or internal areas in the university.
- The office organically depends on a vice-rectory (most common organic structure), management, or another administrative area, or a foundation.
- The office usually integrates multidisciplinary (psychologists, pedagogues, physiotherapists, sign language interpreters, among others) and inclusive (men, women, personnel with disabilities) working groups.
- The office works together with its peers in other universities, other care units in the university itself (for example, psychological care unit), and public or private organizations that work with disabilities.
- The office encourages the voluntary participation of students, recognizing with academic credits their collaboration in support services for people with disabilities at the university.
- The office has a continuous improvement process or an internal evaluation system, which could be owned or based on a quality assurance standard (for example, UNE-EN ISO 9001: 2015 standard).
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. Planning Stage
- Definition of MLR goal: To identify the main features (including offered services, internal organization, people involved, and quality strategies) of current SAS in universities around the world.
- MLR RQs posing: Derived from the MLR goal, the following four RQs were posed to delimit the study.
- What kind of support services are offered by the current offices of SAS in HEIs?
- How current offices of SAS are integrated into the organizational structures of HEIs?
- What are the main features (profiles and organization) of working teams in current offices of SAS in HEIs?
- What kind of strategies are implemented to ensure service quality in offices of SAS in HEIs?
3.2. Execution Stage
- Keywords identification: Exploratory search strings revealed some terms useful to refine searching based on the MLR goal and RQs posed. After five iterations, the following seventeen keywords were identified: accessibility service, accessibility unit, office of student accessibility services, accessibility center, counseling service, support service, technological accessibility, accessible technology, college, university, institute of technology, accessible HEI, students with disability, disability, accessibility, and inclusion. For this study, keywords were translated to Spanish to also perform searching in this language, which helped to expand the search space and reduce the risk of missing relevant sources from Spanish universities and organizations.
- Criteria definition. The following three criteria were defined:
- Inclusion criteria: Gray Literature considered for this study include unpublished studies or dissertations (doctoral, master, or undergraduate), conference proceedings, book chapters, government and agency reports, blogs posts, white papers, HEIs information on SAS, and other documents reported between January 2016 and May 2020. White Literature included research papers, formal books, conference papers, science magazine papers, and other formal scientific publications between January 2016 and May 2020. All selected sources treated the accessibility topic in the specific context of HEIs, or in a wide scope of implementation.
- Exclusion criteria: For this study were excluded those sources focused on educational contexts other than HEIs. For example, those sources related to K-12 (a term used in education in the United States, Canada, and other countries to refer to pre-university educational degrees, from kindergarten to 12th grade).
- Quality criteria: Quality assessment of sources was conducted through an adapted version of quality criteria suggested in . In this case, specific criteria: the authority of the producer, methodology, objectivity, date, novelty, and outlet type– were considered for Gray Literature. These criteria were scored according to an accomplishment value associated with three possible responses: 1, completely; 0.5, partially; and 0, no response. The source of the gray literature could obtain a maximum score of 6 with a nominal value of 1 (total score divided by the number of assessment criteria) .
- Initial searching: An initial set of 589 sources was integrated by using identified keywords as part of search strings in different search engines. Google’s search engine was used to search for gray literature, identifying 401 potential sources. Adapted search strings were used to seek white literature sources in digital libraries, including ERIC, Redalyc, Whiley Online Library, Scielo, and Google Scholar, which were selected considering the context and the main topic of the study, leading to the identification of 188 potential sources.
- Inclusion and exclusion criteria application: The initial set of 589 sources was filtered through the inclusion and exclusion criteria resulting in a set of 310 sources (276, gray literature, and 34, white literature). These criteria were implemented through discussion groups conducted by four authors of the study.
- Quality criteria application: The first filtered set of sources (310 sources) was simultaneously assessed by two authors of this study using the six quality criteria based on . The resulting set represented the second filtered set and included those sources rated with a nominal value ≥0.67. This set integrated 113 sources (79, gray literature, and 34, white literature). The reliability of this assessment was determined by applying the Krippendorff alpha, obtaining an ordinal alpha of 0.838, which was in the range of acceptable reliability values .
- Attribute identification: According to , and considering the MLR goal and the four RQs, eight transversal concepts and their related specific attributes were identified from the second filtered set of sources (113 sources). This centric concept strategy helped to classify and organize a framework for the literature review, which was then complemented by a concept matrix to analyze each source. The concepts and attributes identified for the literature review are presented below:
These aspects and attributes were structured into a data extraction form which was complemented by demographic information from each source, including link, kind of source, title, publication/elaboration year, authoring, and authors affiliation kind (academy, industry, collaboration, other).
- The main contribution, nine attributes: description, guidance, process, methodology, tool, norm, law, state of the art, other.
- Treatment of accessibility/disability as a topic, three attributes. Specific topic, transversal topic, not mentioned in the content.
- Kind of resource, six attributes. Solving proposal as design or development, model implementation, model assessment, experience, opinion/insight, other.
- RQ1, kind of support services offered by the office of SAS, six attributes: curricular adjustments, reasonable adjustments, student mobility, personalized strategies, fostering employability, and others.
- RQ2, integration of offices of SAS into HEI organization, four attributes: internally, externally, blended, other.
- RQ3, features of working teams in offices of SAS in HEIs, four attributes: multidisciplinary teams, with external collaboration, volunteering, and others.
- RQ4, quality assurance strategies, three attributes: continuous improvement process, increasing academic rigor, other.
- Extracting data: Data extracting form allows to map attributes and sources’ content to conform a final set of 97 sources (63, gray literature, and 34, white literature). The final set of literature structured into the data extracting form is available online (Final set of literature structured into the data extracting form is available at URL https://figshare.com/s/e80b39f378f68044ed86 accessed on 11 February 2022).
3.3. Report Stage
- What kind of support services are offered by the current offices of SAS in HEIs?Study suggested that reasonable adjustments (such as accessible technology, tutoring, faculty training on accessible learning, workspaces adaptation, and accompaniment) were the most popular support service offered by HEIs in favor of students with disabilities, these kinds services were detected in 84 sources while curricular adjustments were mentioned in 70 sources, considering exams and evaluations adaptation, curricula adaptation, and classroom activities. Personalized services for students with disability were founded in 32 sources. These services were closely related to curricular and reasonable adjustments complemented by ad-hoc features, for example, specific accessible classroom furniture; places for service dogs or assistance/companion animals; volunteers for note-taking and class recording. Strategies for student mobility supported by grants from government and/or industry were mentioned in 10 sources. Similarly, alternatives to foster employability were detected in 10 sources. Finally, 5 sources complemented some of the previous services with others, including accessible virtual learning, own accessible software, and accessible institutional websites.
- How current SAS offices are integrated into the organizational structures of HEIs?Most sources (61) suggested that SAS are managed and operated internally by HEIs themselves. On the other hand, 14 sources reported a blended organization by considering a good practice to include external consultants particularly to conform an accessible virtual campus.
- What are the main features (profiles and organization) of working teams in current offices of SAS in HEIs?Most of HEIs (76 sources) reported multidisciplinary working teams to operate its office of SAS. Profiles detected include psychologists, pedagogues, experts in tutoring, physiologists, medics, experts in disability, and experts in accessible technology. External collaboration was identified in 21 sources, including collaboration with other HEIs, foundations, organizations, and institutions. Finally, 15 sources suggested volunteering strategies for accompaniment and taking notes.
- What kind of strategies are implemented to ensure service quality in offices of SAS in HEIs?Continuous improvement processes were the main strategy reported (64 sources), for example, using a tutoring program to preserve the quality of services. In the same way, 45 sources suggested tutoring, monitoring, and advising to observe academic rigor and improve students’ learning processes. Other similar strategies, mostly in the form of blended alternatives, were identified in 39 sources.
4. Proposal Description
4.1. Recommendations to Design and Implement an Office of SAS in HEIs
4.1.1. Curricular Adjustments
- Curricula access adjustments, which involve adaptations and provisions of resources to lowering access barriers in both curricula and architectural spaces, for example, implement augmentative and alternative communication systems, technologies for personal mobility, most suitable places in classrooms and labs, or adaptations to furniture and spaces [25,26,27,28].
- Curricular adjustments themselves which are subdivided into: (a) significant adaptations, consisted in modifying or replacing subjects’ contents, assessment criteria and procedures, and objectives; and (b) not significant adaptations, those changes focused on accessibility consisted in adjustments to learning activities, methodologies, and to offer a variety of assessment alternatives [27,28,29].
- A request from a student with disability.
- A psycho-pedagogical evaluation of the student with disabilities for information gathering, additionally, a certificate of disability may be included or required. This evaluation could be done by psychologists or professionals with a similar profile, either employees of the institution or external to the institution hired on a one-off basis.
- Preparation of the adaptation proposal by faculty and with the support of the Office of SAS.
- Presentation and explanation of adaptation proposal to the student with disability for its approval. It is crucial to involve students during material presentation to obtain feedback and analyze changes if needed. For example, in Universidad de Alicante (Spain), the student and faculty sign a learning contract detailing the accommodations. The adjustments are previously established according to the type of disability (a study was carried out and regulations were drawn up with these adaptations), but they can be varied according to the specific needs of each student. These variations are introduced by the psychologist or educational psychologist of the “Student Support Center” after one or several interviews with the student and after reviewing the documentation provided (for example, medical reports).
- Implementation of approved accommodations.
- To offer support and follow-up service for the student.
4.1.2. Reasonable Adjustments
- Approaching the faculty and students with disability through tutoring programs focused on fostering empathy and communication improvement.
- To offer different assessment alternatives for students with disability (for example, giving more time to solve exams, changing the exams’ format, allowing the use of computers to solve exams, allowing a short recess during the exam, and taking the exam in a quiet place), maintaining academic standards.
- To organize physical placement and adapt infrastructure and/or furniture in classrooms by reserving seats in the first row of the classroom for students with disability, leaving enough space between seats and aisles, and conducting class from strategic places (for example, in front of students with disabilities) in order to facilitate communication.
- Adjust teaching methodology by making accessible all the subject’s information and course materials (for example, adding subtitles to videos or audio files), allowing class recording, and providing (ideally in advance) all course materials and information in digital format.
- Implement strategies to better explain the subject’s content, for example, reorganizing topics or modifying original learning activities.
- Implement additional strategies such as the role of collaborator student, where some advanced student voluntarily helps students with disability by note-taking, using available technological resources, and/or fostering a working team.
4.1.3. Inclusive Student Mobility
- Organize information dissemination campaigns aimed to foster the participation of students with disability in the inclusive mobility program .
- Hold virtual meetings (between the interested student with disabilities, and representatives of the host and home institutions) prior to the mobility, to provide information about the host university environment, reasonable accommodations available, the city to be visited (if appliable), place of accommodation, medical assistance, accessible means of transport, personal assistance, support for daily needs (for example, cooking), recreational and/or socializing places, among other aspects related to the stay in the host place [34,36].
4.1.4. Inclusive Employability Fostering
- Foster the virtual model for practice and job offers to mitigate access barriers, such as physical, mobility, health and medical assistance, among others .
- Register complete profiles of students with disability in university integrating type of disability, skills and knowledge, professional and personal interests, specific needs and requirements, and if possible psychological information, to find the best job placement or internship options [38,39,40,41].
- Encourage students with disabilities to participate in academic competitions to demonstrate their talent and creativity in different technical and vocational skills. For example, authors of  mentioned the Abilympics (Abilympics, URL: https://abilympics.org.au/ accessed on 21 January 2022) competition.
4.1.5. Awareness on Disability and Accessibility
- Establish actions aimed at providing extensive training that explains the learning difficulties faced by students with disabilities, the existence of different learning styles, and possible accommodations that can be arranged for students with disability (for example, simple actions such as allowing notes to be taken in class through an electronic device, or offering alternatives for video presentations, could help students with disability to improve their performance in a certain subject), since changing the perception and thoughts of faculty and university staff about disability may be essential to increase the quality of education and services offered to students with disabilities [46,47,48].
- Instruct faculty and university staff to promptly inform students (including new students) about those accessible and inclusive support services available at university and accommodations available in the particular course, not to wait for students’ requirements .
- Offer both online and in-person training to facilitate participation .
- Legislation on disability/accessibility.
- Support services and specialized staff are available at the university.
- Practical knowledge for the implementation of strategies in compliance with laws and policies
- Institutional policies on accessibility and inclusion.
- Types of disabilities (including those not obvious, such as impaired vision, distraction, difficulty to remember, learning disabilities) and their specific educational needs.
- Knowledge and implementation of concepts of universal design.
- Culture and etiquette in terms of inclusive communication.
- Rights, capabilities, and support for university students with psychiatric disabilities.
- Values in the accessible and inclusive workplace.
4.2. Recommendations to Manage and Operate an Office of SAS in HEIs
4.2.1. Office of SAS Integration into Organizational Structure
- HEIs tend to locate offices of SAS on their websites as a transversal service, an orientation service, as an element of the section “access to university”, or as the office itself .
- The office of SAS should be authorized to conform a multidisciplinary working team which could involve the faculty (as collaborators and/or tutors), students with or without disabilities (as volunteers and/or advisors), experts on accessibility and inclusion (as collaborators and/or advisors), university staff, and even external foundations and organizations (as collaborators, advisors, and/or volunteers) [16,17,60].
4.2.2. Internal Structure
- A subcommittee on technology accessibility, responsible for analyzing and promoting digital accessibility on the institutional website and the ICTs used in the university. Special attention should be paid to the accessibility of the institutional platform used as a means for digital communication between faculty and students, sending notices, grades, didactic material, learning activities, among others.
- A subcommittee on accessible infrastructure, focused on managing reasonable adaptations in campus spaces, as well as encouraging that each new building or space at the university campus is built with accessibility in mind.
- A subcommittee on accessible libraries, pursuing complete accessibility to bibliographic information through actions like the training of its staff, implementation of services such as digitization of books, access to digital libraries, and digital books complemented with screen readers.
- A subcommittee on accessibility training, intended to promote awareness on accessibility and disability throughout the university community to mitigate attitudinal barriers and increase understanding of the situation of students with disabilities, respect for diversity, and equal opportunities. It is also in charge of organizing interdisciplinary seminars with the participation of specialists to offer better support to students with disabilities, including technological updating, psychopedagogical attention, inclusive teaching and assessment methodologies, and generation of accessible learning materials.
- A subcommittee on communication and integration, focussing on establishing a direct link between the office of SAS and all university faculties. This will contribute to attend disability and accessibility situations by considering specific needs that would complement overall solutions.
- A subcommittee for registration of students with disabilities, focussing on generating and maintaining a record of students with disabilities entering college. The registry must be systematic in order to generate reliable statistics. It may contain, for example, information about the level of ability to see, hear, move, and speak; gender; age; race; academic location (if they are already enrolled); and the socioeconomic benefit they already have (such as scholarships, and/or assistantships). In coordination with other subcommittees, it may promote and facilitate access to information in a pertinent and timely manner to make aware faculty and university staff about the condition of the students they will attend, fostering adequate educational support.
- A subcommittee on institutional management, representing a direct link between the Office of SAS and university authorities. It is aimed to encourage a permanent institutional support for the office of SAS through a specific action protocol addressed to ensure a full accessible university environment. It is also responsible for managing financial support for students with disabilities, ensuring an inclusive context for scholarships calls (for example, there are cases of students who, due to their condition, cannot attend class regularly, so they could not cover the attendance requirement to access a specific scholarship); facilitate the completion of procedures for admission, permanence, and graduation; and design an action protocol for support service with institutional scope.
- A subcommittee on academic support and orientation for students with disabilities, focussing on managing academic support, particularly through tutoring and volunteering. Actions include the development of a tutoring strategy for specific subjects involving faculty experts in the required topics; and the establishment of a volunteering alternative to encourage the participation of students without disability to provide assistance by taking notes, in the library, and for displacement on campus.
- Identification of goals for the office of SAS.
- Definition of the mission and vision statements.
- Identification of the profiles for required staff.
- Staff members recruitment.
- Formation of subcommittees in accordance with available resources, the office of SAS goals, its mission and vision statements, and involving students with disability for decision-making from the beginning.
- Conformation of the strategic plan among subcommittees and university authorities.
4.2.3. Quality Assessment
- AHEAD Program Domains, Standards, and Performance Indicators (AHEAD Program Domains, Standards, and Performance Indicators, available online at URL: https://www.ahead.org/professional-resources/information-services-portal/data-collection-and-management/performance-indicators accessed on 13 February 2022) developed by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) represent a tool that facilitates the comparison of the practice of an office for the attention of students with disabilities, against a set of principles endorsed by the profession, which helps to determine the effectiveness of the service. The strategy involves five domains, leadership and collaboration, consultation and information dissemination, access and equity, office administration and operations, and professional development.
- CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education (CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education, available online at URL: https://www.cas.edu/standards accessed on 13 February 2022) were established by the Council of Advancement for Standards in Higher education (CAS). Although they are not specific to the context of attention to accessibility, they are usually used as a tool for evaluating the professional profiles of offices of SAS in HEIs.
- Another alternative is the evaluation tool, iEvaluate OSD (Office for Students with Disabilities) , which provides instructions for its implementation as well as a format that facilitates its use as an evaluation tool. Such a tool is aimed at capturing the daily practices of an Office of SAS, through a questionnaire that integrates those service components considered essential by experts. The tool also suggests considering elements such as the perception of student satisfaction, the involvement of recent graduates, perception of the office of SAS by the university (faculties, departments, and other programs at the service of students), and even the participation of students without disabilities.
- Physical facilities. Refers to the capacity of universities to provide facilities suitable for students with disabilities.
- Access to learning. Indicates the extent to which teaching and learning, provided by university faculty, can meet the expectations of students with disabilities.
- Communication. Measures the degree to which members of the university staff, in general, give positive feedback when providing their services to students with disabilities.
- Empathy. Indicates the degree of sensitivity of faculty and university staff to the needs of students with disabilities.
- Firstly, determine the set of criteria to conform to the instrument. For this, it is convenient to consider the quality criteria available in the literature, the Office of SAS goals and the mission and vision statements, the support services offered, the specific situations of the attended students with disabilities, available resources, and applicable regulations regarding attention for disability in HEIs.
- Establishment of a self-evaluation commission considering the participation of students with disabilities, faculty, and university staff members.
- Definition of the target population for instrument application, for example, only students with disability, or students with disabilities and faculty, or students with disability and students without disability, among others.
- Planning the self-assessment by carrying out pilot tests of the instrument, establishing dates for the application of the instrument, and establishing strategies for data analysis.
- Instrument application.
- Holding discussion meetings to identify specific improvement points and determine the strategy for results dissemination.
5.1. Expert Reviews
- “The proposal fulfills the purpose for which it was developed. A systematic methodology was used to identify and select contributions in the literature, which adequately supports the proposal. The recommendations on the design, structure, management, and continuous improvement of a SAS Office seem to be adequate and generic for easy implementation. The example of implementation of the guidelines in the long document helped to better understand the complete proposal”. Expert#14.
- “The proposal is very complete, covers both the set up and running of the service, and has been tested in a real environment. Nothing to add”. Expert#12.
- “As one can be seen from my answers, I consider that the conceptual proposal is well supported by good theoretical principles, coherent, adequate, [the conceptual proposal] contributes to the knowledge... Maybe, the literature reviewed could be updated, although I do not know if this is possible”. Expert#10.
6. Concluding Remarks
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Expert#1||Canada||Male||User experience, human computer interaction||Full-time professor|
|Expert#2||Mexico||Male||Virtual learning, accessible educational technology||Dean|
|Expert#3||Mexico||Female||Software development, accessible virtual learning,||Part-time faculty|
|Expert#4||Mexico||Male||Mobile apps development, usability||Full-time professor, Program Evaluator|
|Expert#5||Mexico||Male||Electronics, artificial Intelligence, usability||Full-time professor, International Program Evaluator|
|Expert#6||Canada||Male||Web development, artificial intelligence, educational technology||Industry, Part-time Faculty|
|Expert#7||Mexico||Male||Virtual learning, accessible OERs||Part-time Faculty, Learning Management Systems|
|Expert#8||Mexico||Male||User experience, human computer interaction||Full-time Professor, Program Evaluator|
|Expert#9||Mexico||Male||Accessibility evaluation, virtual campus||Full-time Professor|
|Expert#10||Mexico||Male||Accessibility evaluation, virtual campus||Assistant Professor, International Program Evaluator|
|Expert#11||Spain||Male||Intelligent mobile platforms, Accessibility evaluation, virtual campus||Full-time Professor|
|Expert#12||Spain||Female||Software engineering and human factors||Full-time Professor|
|Expert#13||Spain||Male||Software engineering and human factors, accessible IoT||Full-time Professor|
|Expert#14||Spain||Female||e-learning, Accessible OERs, Accessibility evaluation, virtual campus||Assistant Professor|
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Mendoza-González, R.; Luján-Mora, S.; Otón-Tortosa, S.; Sánchez-Gordón, M.; Rodríguez-Díaz, M.A.; Reyes-Acosta, R.E. Guidelines to Establish an Office of Student Accessibility Services in Higher Education Institutions. Sustainability 2022, 14, 2635. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14052635
Mendoza-González R, Luján-Mora S, Otón-Tortosa S, Sánchez-Gordón M, Rodríguez-Díaz MA, Reyes-Acosta RE. Guidelines to Establish an Office of Student Accessibility Services in Higher Education Institutions. Sustainability. 2022; 14(5):2635. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14052635Chicago/Turabian Style
Mendoza-González, Ricardo, Sergio Luján-Mora, Salvador Otón-Tortosa, Mary Sánchez-Gordón, Mario Alberto Rodríguez-Díaz, and Ricardo Emmanuel Reyes-Acosta. 2022. "Guidelines to Establish an Office of Student Accessibility Services in Higher Education Institutions" Sustainability 14, no. 5: 2635. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14052635