Type of Resources


Date Created



Smith, Rebecca Jayne. Examining the Effects of Disability Services on Student Success in Higher Education. Unpublished Master of Arts Thesis, University of Northern Colorado. 2020.

Disabled students in higher education are provided resources through reasonable accommodation, or modification of university offerings. This affords the disabled student equal opportunity to benefit from those programs, services, and facilities despite the limitations imposed by their disability. This practice is historically informed by the medical model of disability, and legal reforms such as the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act in 1973. Most research in this area has found that reasonable accommodation is effective for “leveling the playing field” for disabled college students. Yet, some researchers argue that Universal Design, the composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, can remove barriers altogether while increasing student engagement and retention. Nevertheless, little change has occurred on the organizational level at institutions of higher education to move toward Universal Design and embrace the framework of the social justice model of disability. The present study analyzed institutional data (N=740) to identify educational trends, success, and disability resource utilization at a mid-sized 4-year institution amongst disabled students. Data were analyzed to better understand the relationship between disabled students and their either active or inactive use of available resources and its impact on academic success (GPA). Findings reveal both student and program level evidence to support a shift within disability service models from the medical model of disability to the social model of disability. Results and recommendations are discussed considering shifts in disability resource policy and practice from the medical to the social model, as well as, how institutional reform should include a focus on universally designed campus practices.