Advisor knowledge of disability-related needs, laws, and accommodation requirements in postsecondary academic advisement practices

Rebekah Elizabeth Young, University of Southern Mississippi


Since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, enrollment of students with disabilities in higher education has risen. In 2007-2008, approximately 11% of undergraduate students reported having some type of disability (U.S. NCES, 2012). Since disability disclosure is optional for students in higher education, it is possible that reported enrollment figures are underestimates. Despite increasingly equitable access to postsecondary education and demonstration of the academic capability necessary for gaining collegiate admission, students with disabilities are less likely to remain enrolled and successfully earn a degree than students without disabilities. Efforts to bolster student retention, satisfaction, and success rates generally focus on the development and implementation of institutional support services, including academic advisement, that have been designed to meet the unique needs of all students in higher education. Because of the nature of the advisement process, advisors have a unique opportunity to develop relationships with students. As a result of these relationships, advisors are more likely than any other institutional representative to influence student satisfaction, retention, and success. Effectively meeting the advisement needs of students with disabilities requires an understanding of the unique needs of these students as well as knowledge of disability law and accommodation requirements. This study used an exploratory sequential mixed methods design to explore current academic advisement practices related to students with disabilities. Semi-structured personal interviews were conducted with 12 academic advisors from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee to characterize academic advising for students with disabilities. Upon completion of the interviews, a questionnaire was developed and used as the foundation of a web-based survey to examine advisors' knowledge of disability-related issues and the influence of this knowledge on advisement practices. A total of 387 postsecondary academic advisors completed the web-based survey. Statistical analyses revealed statistically significant dependent associations between advisement practices for students with disabilities and advisor status (full-time or part-time), institution type, and advisement type. These findings may provide a basis for modifying current advisor training programs and improve advisement practices related to students with disabilities.