This toolkit showcases the numbers of students with disabilities in the social and behavioral sciences by disability type, and as degree recipients, and illustrates common barriers to studying psychology encountered by students with disabilities. Data was taken from surveys conducted by the APA's Disability Issues Office, National Center for Education Statistics, National Science Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Psychology Students with Disabilities — Barriers Survey

Ninety-two current or recent psychology students with disabilities completed a 35-item internet-based survey between October 2007 and January 2008.  Respondents were informed that the results of the study would "be used to create products and resources for psychology departments that will help improve the teaching and learning experience of psychology students with disabilities." Survey questions asked about demographic information, alternate format materials, teaching technique difficulties, and internship difficulties. Complete findings are in the Barriers to Students with Disabilities in Psychology Training report (PDF, 120KB). Highlights include:

Disability Type

The most prevalent disability type among the respondents was psychological/emotional (28.2%) followed by systemic (27.1%), physical/orthopedic (25.9%) and learning/cognitive (25.9%). Respondents could select more than one disability type.

Disability Status

Respondents were asked to indicate "the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities in studying psychology" in an open-item format. Responses were then categorized. The largest single category of responses (37%) concerned stigma, discrimination, and negative attitudes by faculty and staff. This was followed by lack of appropriate education and faculty training about disability issues and inexperience working with persons with disabilities; overall lack of awareness (21%). Lack of access and lack of accommodations were reported by 12% and 10% of respondents, respectively. Most of the remaining responses were recoded into six additional barrier categories with the exception of 5% which indicated have not faced barriers.


Barriers During the Application, Interview, and Admission Process

Nineteen percent (N=17) of the respondents indicated that they experienced barriers during the application, interview, and admission process. The open-ended follow-up question, however, only yielded nine meaningful responses. Of the useable answers, the most common (6%) related to the interview, followed by lack of accommodations related to the entrance exam (2%) and fear of disclosing or negative consequences as a result of disclosing (2%).

Barriers during Application, Interview, and Admissions

Suggestions for Improvement 

The next question of the survey asked respondents to reflect on possible improvements to their psychology training. About 20% of responses concerned the provision of resources and information (e.g., about mentoring, support groups, university resources, and information for/about students with disabilities). This was followed by increase awareness of disability (15%), remove attitudinal barriers (13%), providing materials in an accessible format (11%), faculty training (9%), and increase accommodations (4%). Sixteen percent of responses indicated this was not an issue at their institution. Another 16% of responses were classified as unclear.

Suggestions for Improvement

Disclosure of Disability on Application

Approximately 60% of respondents did not disclose their disability when applying to the university. The most common reason was that the student felt their disability was not relevant (13%), followed closely by fear of not being accepted (12%), not having the disability at the time of the application (10%), and fear of stigma/discrimination (9%).

Disclosure of Disability on Application

Impact of Disability on Training Program 

Most respondents (N=88; 96%) provided at least one response. Excluding unclear (N=7) and no issues, minimal (N=6) response categories, 103 responses were recoded into 12 categories. The most common issues (endorsed by 32% of respondents) related to time (e.g., more time needed to complete program, needed time off to attend to disability-related issues, and more time to complete dissertation). The next most common set of issues were attitudinal (17%). For example, stigma and discrimination, lack of sensitivity, or lack of understanding. This was followed by medication issues and effects of disability (13%) such as fatigue, pain management, and symptoms of disability. Less common responses (5% or less per grouping) related to financial issues, internship, positive experiences, and accommodations.

Impact of Disability on Training

Compilation and Descriptions of NCES Data

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a federal entity that gathers, analyzes, and reports data related to education in the United States. Their national 2007-2008 data of postsecondary institutions reveals that an estimated 7.6% of graduate and first-professional students have a disability. Looking at students with disabilities in the social and behavioral sciences only, the most prevalent disability was depression (approximately 31% of those who have a disability), followed by orthopedic or mobility impairment (21%), Attention deficit disorder (12%), and hearing impairment (11%).

Disability Type

Compilation and Descriptions of National Science Foundation Data

The National Science Foundation (NSF) gathers data on a wide variety of topics, including educational data in the fields of science and engineering. For the years 2006 and 2007, the NSF reports that approximately 38,900 people were recipients of master's degrees in psychology. About 2,100 (5.4%) of these recipients were people with disabilities. Of the 4,600 doctoral degree recipients, approximately 200 (4.3%) were people with disabilities.

Degree Recipients in Psychology

Compilation and Descriptions of U.S. Census Bureau Data

The U.S. Census Bureau gathers data on demographic and other characteristics of the United States Population. Statistics from 2008 indicate that 6% of the population ages 18 to 34 has a disability. Breaking down by type of disability in this age group, the most prevalent is cognitive difficulty (3.3% of the population age 18-34), followed by independent living difficulty (2.0%), and ambulatory difficulty (1.5%). Less common types of disability among this age group include vision difficulty (1.0%) and hearing difficulty (0.9%).

Disability PercentageDisability Type