Disability within the APA

Barriers to Students Project

Students with disabilities have increased in numbers within institutions of higher learning since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but still face unique issues and barriers, including a lack of understanding and cooperation from administrators, faculty, staff, and other students; inaccessibility of buildings, facilities, and grounds; refusal and resistance to reasonable accommodation requests; and a surplus of skepticism.

Students with disabilities have increased in numbers within institutions of higher learning since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but still face unique issues and barriers, including a lack of understanding and cooperation from administrators, faculty, staff, and other students; inaccessibility of buildings, facilities, and grounds; refusal and resistance to reasonable accommodation requests; and a surplus of skepticism.

However, what students themselves have to say about their educational experiences has not been sought in any systematic way. Earlier this year, the APA Office on Disability Issues conducted an online survey to gather information on the challenges facing students with disabilities in psychology programs. Survey questions broached numerous topics including disclosure issues, disability awareness among faculty, and access and accommodations.

Although the final report is not yet completed, we have been able to gain some insights into some of the major obstacles faced by students with disabilities during their education and training. For instance, when asked to name the biggest barrier students with disabilities encountered in their psychology training programs, 37% reported stigma and negative attitudes


to be their greatest obstacles. In fact, this was a recurrent theme through many aspects of their training. Roughly 49% reported feeling limited in training options as compared to their non-disabled peers, particularly around practicum issues.

Another item addressed the students’ perceptions of disability awareness among psychology faculty and staff. Almost 26% of students polled perceived low levels of training on disability, or disability awareness among faculty and staff.

If these are the identified factors that inhibit students with disabilities from reaching their full potential, then we can look to these limitations as opportunities for improvement. By addressing gaps in disability knowledge, looking for innovative ways to provide accommodations, and insuring accessibility in training, students with disabilities can thrive in their training to become our future psychologists.

The full report will be available later this fall on the Office on Disability Issues in Psychology site.