Opinions of Disability Service Directors on Faculty Training:
The Need, Content, Issues, Formats, Media, and Activities
Charles L. Salzberg
Christopher C. Debrand
Rebecca J. Blair
Anna C. Carsey
Alexis S. Johnson
Utah State University
There is a growing need for colleges and universities to provide training for faculty members about students with disabilities. In this study, a representative sample of 214 directors of disability service offices (DSOs) responded to a survey that called for their opinions about various aspects of faculty training programs. Specifically, they responded to questions about the need for training, about the factors which they believe lead to a successful training program, problems in getting faculty to participate, concerns of faculty, the content for a training program, the duration or length of training sessions, the types of activities which should be included in training and the best formats with which to deliver training. A detailed summary of their responses is presented in the results along with some discussion of key issues.
Generally, DSO directors are not satisfied with their institutions’ current faculty training programs and believe a far more substantial effort would be in order. They note the difficulty in getting many faculty members to attend training sessions, and the overwhelming majority recommended that, as a practical matter, sessions need to be limited to one or two hours. Participants had many consistent opinions about preferred content, faculty concerns, and formats for training.
Young people with disabilities in the United States aspire to higher education. According to Gardner (1999), 86% of eighth-grade students with disabilities who responded to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey planned to go on to some form of postsecondary education. That same study noted a dramatic increase in the number of individuals with disabilities actually enrolled in postsecondary education. For example, 63% of the eighth-grade students who aspired to postsecondary education were pursuing postsecondary education within two years of their high school graduation. Further, in 1978, an NCES survey of full-time, first-year freshman in colleges and universities throughout the United States indicated that 2.6% of full-time freshman reported having at least one disability. By 1998, that figure had risen to more than 9% (Gardner, 1999).
It appears that postsecondary education graduates with disabilities do about as well as their nondisabled counterparts with regard to the probability of employment in their chosen fields and in the compensation they receive (Horn & Berktold, 1999). However, students with disabilities are less likely to graduate from college (Gardner, 1999; Horn & Berktold, 1999). One factor that is important to the success of students with disabilities in postsecondary institutions is the knowledge and attitudes of the faculty about students with disabilities.
By and large, faculty members are seen by students with disabilities as sensitive and willing to cooperate with accommodations, although there are exceptions (Hill, 1996). Importantly, a study of faculty attitudes by Leyser, Vogel, Wyland, and Brulle (1998) indicated that faculty members who had more information about students with disabilities were more positive toward them and that faculty members who had more personal contact with individuals with disabilities were more positive toward students with disabilities in their classes. Moreover, 88% of the faculty members indicated a willingness to accommodate students with disabilities and a belief that they should integrate students with disabilities. Unfortunately, Leyser et al. (1998) also found that 83.5% of these faculty members reported limited contact with students with disabilities, 40% had limited knowledge and skills to make accommodations, and 55% reported being unfamiliar with campus resources and services that might help students with disabilities. Perhaps, most to the point for current purposes, 82% of these faculty members reported that they had limited or no training about the needs of students with disabilities.
Further substantiating these findings, West et al. (1993) stated that a frequent barrier to students with disabilities in higher education is a lack of understanding regarding accommodations. Similarly, Lundeberg and Svien (1988) and Tomlan, Farrell, and Geis (1989) suggest that training be provided to faculty members to increase their understanding of students with disabilities.
These studies clearly point to a need for institutions of higher education (IHEs) to provide training about students with disabilities for faculty members as well as for teaching assistants and administrators; indeed, many IHEs have begun to do that (Lewis & Farris, 1999). However, designing a successful training program requires some critical information. For example, what should be included in a training program about students with disabilities for postsecondary faculty? What are the best ways for such training to be delivered? How lengthy should a training program be? As a practical matter, how much time can faculty members reasonably be expected to devote to training? What other factors affect the likely success of a faculty training program?
While the literature states that training for faculty is sorely needed, it does not provide empirical data on what a faculty training program should contain. This study attempted to gather knowledgeable opinions about these and other questions. While many individuals might provide intelligent commentary on these questions, we decided that perhaps the professionals who direct the disabilities services offices (DSOs) at colleges and universities are in the best position to do so. This study, then, surveyed DSO directors throughout the United States about issues related to developing a training program for higher education faculty.
The population from which the study sample was drawn were members of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) who were listed as the director/coordinator of their institution’s disability service office (DSO) in the 1999 AHEAD directory. One director/coordinator was selected from each IHE for a total population of 613. If an IHE listing included both a director and a coordinator, the director was selected to be included in the population. Of that population, the Canadian (26) directors were excluded because different laws pertaining to students with disabilities in the United States and Canada might lead to confounding results if the populations were combined. Further, Utah directors (13) were excluded because they had been exposed to an earlier draft of the survey instrument in a pilot study. Thus, their inclusion in the final study might have compromised the integrity of the results. In addition, 66 individuals who were identified in the directory could not be found at their listed numbers. Thus, the total population was reduced to 508 respondents who were distributed across the 10 federal rehabilitation regions. After one month, a follow-up e-mail was sent to participants who did not respond to the initial survey.
In order to better describe the population of participating institutions, we present the distribution of the sample across the 10 federal rehabilitation regions (in Table 1). The distribution of participating institutions across Carnegie classifications (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998) are presented in Table 2. The Carnegie Foundation created a system of classifications for institutions of higher education so that these characteristics could be described and compared to similar institutions. The classifications range from two-year community colleges to large public and private research institutions. The present study used the 1994 Carnegie classification system to create a representative sample.
Of the 508 surveys that were sent out, 214 were returned, for a return rate of 42.1%. The response rates by region ranged from 18.2% to 47.9%. The rate of return by the Carnegie class of the institutions ranged from 17.9% to 50%, and the average student enrollment for the responding institutions (10,237) was similar to that of the nonresponding institutions (9,562).
Geographic Distribution of Participating Institutions by Federal Rehabilitation RegionRegion / States in region / Surveys sent / Responses / Response rate
I / CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT / 36 / 12 / 33.3%
II / NJ, NY, PR / 56 / 25 / 44.6%
III / DE, DC, MD, PA, VA, WV / 57 / 24 / 42.1%
IV / AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN / 73 / 32 / 43.8%
V / IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI / 94 / 45 / 47.9%
VI / AR, LA, NM, OK, TX / 41 / 17 / 41.5%
VII / IA, KS, MO, NE / 32 / 11 / 34.4%
VIII / CO, MT, ND, SD, WY / 22 / 4 / 18.2%
IX / AZ, CA, HI, NV / 64 / 26 / 40.6%
X / AK, ID, OR, WA / 33 / 15 / 45.5%
Unknown / 3 / NA
Totals / 508 / 214
Average return rate / 42.1%
Note. States in region are represented by postal abbreviation.
Summary of Carnegie Classifications for Participating InstitutionsCarnegie classification / Total sent / Percentage of sent / Percentage of returned / Percentage returned
AA / 144 / 28.3% / 25.2% / 37.5%
BACH/MAST / 183 / 36.0% / 29.0% / 33.9%
DOC/RES / 129 / 25.4% / 23.4% / 38.8%
OTHER / 6 / 1.2% / 0.9% / 33.3%
Not listed / 46 / 9.1% / 7.5% / 34.8%
Unknown / 0 / 0.0% / 14.0% / NA
Total / 508 / 100.0% / 100.0% / 42.1%
Average return rate (total)
Note. BACH/MAST includes bachelor’s and master’s classifications I and II. DOC/RES includes doctoral and research classifications I and II. OTHER includes all other Carnegie classifications that did not fall under the previously listed categories.
The survey instrument consisted of 11 questions asking participants to report on their opinions on accommodations for students with disabilities and on what should be included in a curriculum for training faculty at their IHE (see Table 3). Survey questions called for three types of responses. One type (e.g., No. 1, “Are you satisfied with your institution’s current efforts to teach faculty to accommodate students with disabilities?”) required respondents to check “Yes,” “No,” or “Other.” If they checked “Other,” they were expected to write an explanation. A second type of question (e.g., No. 2, “What attributes do you believe make faculty training effective/successful?”) called for open-ended, constructed responses. A final question (No. 12) simply asked for any other suggestions that the respondents might care to offer about faculty training.
The survey instrument was reviewed for content validity by members of the project staff and by a group of attendees at the 1999 Utah AHEAD conference. Following analysis of comments regarding content validity and prior to use of the survey instrument, the survey was piloted with all 13 of the DSO directors in public and private colleges and universities in Utah. The survey draft was sent to these directors with a cover letter from the DSO director at Utah State University that provided an introduction to and a description of the purpose of the study. It also invited the directors to provide feedback on the clarity and wording of the survey, as well as the content. These directors also responded to questions on the survey.
Summary of Disability Service Directors ResponsesQuestion / Answer / Number / Percentage
1. Are you satisfied with your institution’s current efforts to teach faculty to accommodate students with disabilities? / Yes
Total respondents / 53
210 / 25
2. What attributes do you believe make faculty training effective/successful? / Faculty and administrator support
Hands-on active training
Make the training relevant
Make it mandatory
Small departmental training with question-and- answer session
Brief, applicable to faculty situation(s)
Total respondents / 39
204 / 19
3. Is getting faculty to participate in training a problem at your institution? / Yes
Total respondents / 153
209 / 73
4. How can administrators be encouraged to support faculty training? / Educate administrators regarding legal obligations under ADA and 504
Present case law reviews
Arrange direct contact for administrators with students with disabilities
Total respondents / 161
206 / 78
5. What do you believe faculty are concerned about? / Maintaining academic standards
Rights and responsibilities of faculty
Rights and responsibilities of students
Students disclosing disabilities to professors
Classroom aides (interpreters, etc.)
Total respondents / 199
214 / 93
6. Should faculty training include examples of both correct and incorrect methods of handling a situation? / Yes
Total respondents / 180
210 / 86
7. What media are faculty comfortable using in training? / Live presentation
Total respondents / 176
206 / 85
8. What length is practical for a faculty training workshop? / 1-2 hours
Longer than 2 hours
Total respondents / 95
213 / 45
9. What types of activities should be included in a faculty training workshop? / Question-and-answer sessions
Presentation by experts
Involvement of students with disabilities
Student and faculty success stories
Use of videos
Total respondents / 194
214 / 91
10. What topics should be covered in the curriculum? / Institution’s campus disability services
Who to contact for information and assistance
Legal foundations (ADA, 504, etc.)
Ethical considerations (e.g., privacy)
Information regarding specific disabilities (e.g., LD, sensory impairment) and implications for learning
Designing accommodations for students
Total respondents / 209
214 / 98
11. Do you have other suggestions for us? / Teach faculty the process a student goes
through in order to receive accommodations
Use faculty as mentors for other faculty
Get support from campus administration
Develop a guide for faculty use
Total respondents / 6
51 / 12
Note. The number of responses and percentages for several items do not equal the numbers indicated by “total respondents” because disability service directors sometimes provided more than one answer for each questions.