Title bar

Persons With Disabilities

Almost 8 percent of all undergraduates in 1990 (9 percent of male students and 7 percent of female students) reported having a disability. (See appendix table 5-12.) Veterans were more likely to have a disability than were nonveterans, and older students were more likely to have a disability than those under age 24. [6]
Compared with students without disabilities, college and university students (undergraduate and graduate students combined) with disabilities were more likely to attend part time (45 percent of students with disabilities versus 41 percent of those without). (See appendix table 5-13.)
First-year students who were partially sighted or blind were more likely to study at 4-year colleges than at 2-year colleges (23,241 versus 10,366). (See appendix table 4-8.) More first-year students with hearing and health-related disabilities also studied at 4-year rather than 2-year colleges, though by smaller majorities.
Students with disabilities constituted a higher proportion of majors in physical sciences (14 percent), computer science, and civil engineering (12 percent in each) than they did in mathematics (5 percent) and economics (4 percent). (See figure 5-7).

Figure 5-7

A 1993 survey of engineering schools to ascertain the number and characteristics of engineering students with disabilities requested enrollment and demographic features of this population. The survey results found very small percentages of students with disabilities among the engineering student population. The low percentages do not agree with anecdotal information gathered over more than a decade by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which directed the survey. This survey, conducted by the Engineering Workforce Commission (EWC), shows that engineering schools do not currently have systems in place to identify and report on their students with disabilities. While self-reporting instruments (e.g., surveys completed by the students) at institutions of higher education tend to find that 8 to 10 percent of students have a disability (Henderson 1992), institution-reporting instruments (e.g., surveys completed by the schools) at the engineering schools found that about 0.8 percent of students had a disability. The EWC survey found even smaller percentages among some groups, such as master's and doctoral candidates. [7] The survey found the percentages of undergraduate engineering students having disabilities to be the same for both men and women. (See appendix table 5-15.) Of the students with disabilities, 13 percent were members of underrepresented minority groups. (See figure 5-8.) The most common disability among these engineering undergraduates was learning disability, followed by multiple disabilities and mobility impairment.

Figure 5-8

The field enrolling the largest number of students identified as having disabilities was electrical/computer engineering, followed by "other (including pre-engineering)" and mechanical/aerospace engineering. (See figure 5-9.)

Figure 5-9

6. These data are from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 1990. Respondents were college students, both undergraduate and graduate. Among the questions ascertaining demographic and enrollment characteristics, students were asked if they had a functional limitation, disability, or handicap. Each survey participant responded to a set of six separate questions about particular disabilities. The responses were weighted to produce national estimates for the student population. See Technical Notes for more information. Up arrow

7. The experiences of engineering colleges and universities in identifying and reporting on their students with disabilities are noted in reports of the Engineering Workforce Commission as part of Access to Engineering, a national project to foster participation in the profession, directed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science with support from the National Science Foundation (Engineering Workforce Commission 1994). For a discussion of measurement problems related to statistics on persons with disabilities, see Technical Notes. Up arrow

TOC buttonHelp buttonAbbreviations 
buttonNSF buttonLeft button