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Persons With Disabilities

Opportunities to Learn and Decisions to Study Science, Mathematics, and Engineering
Achievement and Accomplishments

Opportunities to Learn and Decisions to Study Science, Mathematics, and EngineeringUp arrow

Elementary/Secondary Education

Approximately 12 percent of all students receive special services in federally supported special education programs. By far the largest group of these students, 45 percent, have specific learning disabilities. The next largest group, 20 percent of the total with disabilities, have speech or language impairments, and about 1 percent each have orthopedic, hearing, other impairments, or multiple disabilities.
Instructional settings may require special equipment or environments for science education. Thus the instructional settings for students with disabilities are of particular importance. Students with speech or language impairments are most likely to be served in regular classrooms, with nearly 80 percent receiving their instruction in these settings, and an additional 14 percent receiving assistance in resource rooms, so that a total of 94 percent of these students have access to science instruction similar to that of their classmates. Similar combinations of instructional environments are available to 86 percent of students with learning disabilities; 67 percent with visual impairments; 52 percent with orthopedic impairments; and 47 percent with hearing impairments.

Transition to Higher Education

The percentage of full-time students entering college who report having disabilities has increased, from 7 percent in 1985 to 9 percent in 1991. Most of this increase occurred in the category "learning disabilities." Percentages of students with other disabilities stayed relatively constant.

Two-Year Institutions

Two-year institutions serve many students with disabilities. More than half (59 percent) of the students beginning their first year of study in higher education in 1991 who reported a learning disability were studying at 2-year institutions.

Undergraduate Education Choice of Field

Field of study varied for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities constituted a higher proportion of planned majors in physical sciences (14 percent), computer science, and civil engineering (12 percent in each) than they did in mathematics and economics (5 percent and 4 percent, respectively).

Achievement and AccomplishmentsUp arrow

Transition to Higher Education

The performance of students who reported a disability was slightly lower than that of those who reported no disability. The average SAT score in mathematics for students who reported having a disability was 434, compared with 482 for students reporting no disability.


The number of science and engineering doctorates earned by people who reported that they had disabilities was 280 in 1992, barely more than 1 percent of the total science and engineering doctoral degrees awarded.

Employment Levels and Trends

About 20 percent of the population have some disability. [5] These disabilities may or may not require accommodation or limit an individual's ability to participate in educational experiences or to be productive in an occupation. Approximately 10 percent of the total labor force, and 3 percent of the science and engineering labor force, have some disability.
Doctoral scientists and engineers with disabilities, overall, appear to be equivalent to those without disabilities in terms of unemployment and underemployment rates, median salaries, academic rank, and tenure. However, because of the usual later onset of a disability, doctoral scientists and engineers with disabilities have more work experience than their colleagues without disabilities. In comparing persons with disabilities and those without disabilities, while holding constant years of experience, persons with disabilities have median salaries somewhat lower than those without disabilities.
5. Estimates of the proportion of the population with disabilities vary. See Technical Notes for discussions of the measurement issues related to this group. Up arrow
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