Ensuring Accessibility for Students with Disabilities
Fernanda Munoz - July 10th, 2023
As a scholarship provider, creating equal opportunities for all students means including those with disabilities. By implementing inclusive practices, you will grant exceptional candidates with disabilities fair access to your funding opportunities. This guide aims to help scholarship providers ensrure accessibility for students with disabilities .
🌟For a quick checklist, check out our Accessibility Checklist.
Some examples of common disabilities include but are not limited to:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- The person struggles to maintain attention and focus.
- Learning Disabilities
- Dyslexia: difficulty with words; this hinders a person’s ability to read
- Dysgraphia: difficulty with writing; person struggles with vocabulary retrieval
- Dyscalculia: difficulty with mathematics and calculations
- Psychiatric Disabilities
- Anxiety: can impede concentration
- Autism Spectrum Disorder:
- The person may struggle to take another person’s perspective, compare and contrast to arrive at the “big picture,” and use literary techniques.
- Visual Impairments:
- Supplement oral instructions with visual ones
- Hard of Hearing:
- Supplement visual instructions with oral ones
- Mobility Disabilities
What Scholarship Providers Can Do (and Why)
1. Promote Accessibility and Inclusion –
Commitment Statement: Begin by developing a commitment statement that highlights your organization’s dedication to accessibility and inclusivity. Clearly communicate your willingness to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities throughout the application process.
Awareness and Training: Educate your staff about disability-related issues and foster a culture of inclusivity. Provide training on disability etiquette, accessibility best practices, and the laws and regulations regarding disability accommodations. Here are some universities offering FREE courses.
2. Application Process –
Digital Accessibility: Verify that your scholarship application materials are digitally accessible, following guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. This includes providing alternative text for images, using clear and concise language, and ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Flexible Formats: Allow applicants to submit their materials in formats that accommodate different disabilities. Accept alternative forms of submission, such as audio or video recordings, braille documents, or alternative text-based formats, alongside traditional written applications.
Extended Deadlines: Offer extended application deadlines for students with disabilities who may require additional time to complete the application process.
3. Eligibility Criteria –
Reconsider Nonessential Requirements: Evaluate the necessity of certain requirements that may disadvantage students with disabilities. For example, consider whether physical presence at an interview or extracurricular activities can be substituted with alternative methods of assessment. Consider, on a case-by-case basis, allowing funding to be utilized for students pursuing higher education outside of Canada where a program exists that is better suited to their needs.
Individualized Consideration: Embrace a flexible approach when assessing applicants with disabilities. Take into account specific challenges they may face and provide opportunities for candidates to explain any barriers encountered in their application.
4. Communication and Support –
Accessibility Statement: Clearly articulate your organization’s commitment to accessibility on your website and within all scholarship-related communications. Provide contact information for applicants to request accommodations or seek further information.
Accommodation Requests: Establish a process for students to request accommodations such as providing sign language interpreters, accessible interview locations, or materials in accessible formats. The procedure for requesting accommodations must be simple, well-defined, and confidential.
Personalized Support: Assign a staff member to provide support throughout the application process. This individual can guide applicants through accommodation requests and offer assistance in navigating any accessibility barriers they may encounter.
5. Evaluation and Selection Process –
Disability Awareness Training for Evaluators: Educate scholarship evaluators about different types of disabilities and the potential challenges faced by students with disabilities. This training will help evaluators assess candidates fairly and objectively, avoiding biases and misconceptions.
Focus on Accomplishments: Encourage evaluators to focus on the achievements, qualifications, and potential of applicants with disabilities rather than solely on their disability-related experiences or challenges.
Some examples of how common requirements can alienate students include but are not limited to:
- If the committee focuses only on standardized testing, this pose as a challenge to some people who struggle with their academic performance, as their school might not be giving them the resources they need.
- If the committee only measures community involvement, then a wheelchair user might not be able to access more flashy volunteering experiences, inevitably negatively affecting their application.
Expert Input: Consider including individuals with expertise in disability advocacy or disability services on your selection committees for a comprehensive and inclusive evaluation process.
Some examples of experts include but are not limited to:
- Individuals with a history of disability advocacy
- Individuals with disability training and certifications
- Individuals with direct experience with people with disabilities
6. Confidentiality and Privacy –
Confidentiality of Accommodations: Maintain confidentiality of accommodations requested and provided to individual applicants to respect their privacy and disclose disability-related information only on a need-to-know basis.
By implementing the recommendations in this guide, scholarship providers can create an inclusive environment and remove barriers that may prevent students with disabilities from applying for and receiving scholarship opportunities. Embracing accessibility not only promotes equality but also enables exceptional candidates with disabilities to thrive. Accessibility benefits everyone, and by making your programs more inclusive, you are fostering a more diverse and vibrant academic community.
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