Abstract: Accommodation Experiences of Social Work Students with Disabilities (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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304P Accommodation Experiences of Social Work Students with Disabilities

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Claudia Sellmaier, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma, WA
JaeRan Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington

According to the National Center for Education statistics, 19.4% of undergraduate and 11.9% of graduate students in the U.S. reported having a disability. One study estimated that 38%-50% of social work students met criteria for clinical depression. Based on the 2015 CSWE EPAS, social work programs are required to provide supportive and inclusive learning environments for all students. To meet these standards, social work programs have to pay attention to accommodation needs and experiences of disabled students. The following research questions guided this mixed methods study: First, how do students experience accommodations on their university campus? Second, what personal characteristics impact the student’s experience with accommodations?


Data was collected from 262 social work students who identified as having a disability. The majority (52.1%) was enrolled in BASW, followed by MSW (44.4%), and PhD/DSW (3.4%) programs. Most participants identified as female (82.4%) and White (50.7%), with mental health being the most cited diagnosis (58.0%). Data was collected through an anonymous online survey including demographic questions, and questions about students’ accommodation experiences with staff and faculty through both Likert scales and open-ended questions. Likert scale ratings of students’ interactions with disability resource services were correlated with student demographics and type of diagnosis. Open-ended comments of students’ interactions with classroom and field faculty were quantified to correlate with student demographics and type of diagnosis. Additionally, open-ended comments about disability resource services, classroom, and field faculty were analyzed through thematic analysis by both researchers, to gain an in-depth understanding of students’ experiences.


Descriptive analysis showed that over 80% of students knew about disability resource services, but only 56.4% of these students registered for accommodations. Most students learned from faculty, university websites, and syllabi about disability accommodations. Students who worked were significantly less likely to register with disability resources. Type of disability was not a significant predictor of registering with disability resources or of receiving classroom accommodations. Most students reported receiving additional testing time and alternative testing locations. These accommodations were experienced as very helpful for academic success. Few students received accommodations in their field placement, with students with physical disabilities being more likely, and students with mental health diagnosis being less likely to receive field-based accommodations. The majority of students reported positive interactions with staff and faculty, and described them as supportive and understanding. Barriers included complicated processes to access disability resources, and faculty or staff that questioned the legitimacy of accommodation needs.

Conclusion and Implications

Students experienced accommodations as critical resource, but 20% of students did not know about disability resources, only half were registered with disability resources, and less than 15% received field accommodations. Social work programs and educators therefore need to work on being more intentional with distributing information about accommodations to prospective and current social work students. In addition, accommodations might need to be reconfigured to make them applicable for field placements. Faculty should receive ongoing training on universal design principles to provide an inclusive classroom that goes beyond a narrow definition of accommodations for disabled students.