Citation: Scott, S. (2019, March). The AHEAD Biennial Survey of Disability Resource Office Structures and Programs. Huntersville, NC: The Association on Higher Education and Disability. Available at https://www.ahead.org/professional-resources/information-services-portal/benchmark-data
Why is this Study Important?
Disability resource offices (DROs) across the country vary widely and typically grow and evolve in response to local needs as well as national trends. With the many changes that are taking place in the field—from emerging disability populations, to findings in case law, to growing awareness of the role of social justice in campus inclusion, how are disability resource office structures and programs changing?
AHEAD conducts a biennial survey of the membership to collect national data about disability resource offices and professionals. For the 2018 survey, AHEAD wanted to learn more about the current administration and activities of disability resource offices. The survey focused on administrative structures, office staff, budgeting, and the constituents served by the disability resource office.
AHEAD has been conducting biennial surveys since 2008, with slight modifications to the survey instrument and methods over time to reflect updates and current areas of focus. The survey was distributed to one campus representative at each institution reflected in the AHEAD membership. Respondents were typically the director or head of disability services on campus. An e-mail invitation with an embedded link to the online survey was sent to 1,534 distinct institutions of higher education. There was a total of 457 hits on the survey or a 30% response rate.
Some Key Findings
The report contains descriptive data summarizing the survey responses in a variety of areas important to managing a disability resource office. The following “key findings” are just a few of the many data points and trends contained in the report.
- Office administration: The majority (52%) of disability resource offices report to the Student Affairs division; 25% report to Academic Affairs.
- Office titles: In the past, the Office of Disability Services was a common office name. In 2018 titles vary widely. The words access, accessibility, or accessible (e.g., Student Access Services or Office for Accessibility Resources) have increased greatly since the 2012 AHEAD survey.
- Number of staff: Staffing patterns are clearly different at institutions of different types and sizes. For example, the average number of full-time staff in the disability resource office on campuses with less the 1,500 total student enrollment is one full-time professional; on campuses with total student enrollment of 30,000 or higher the average is 13 full-time staff. (See the report for more information on campuses of other sizes as well as information on the average number of staff at different types of campuses.) The report also includes average numbers of staff in four additional categories: part-time, contract, student, and volunteers.
- Annual budget: Office budgets vary extensively. Even when responses are sorted by institutional size and type there is a wide range of budgetary support. Twenty-three percent (23%) of disability resource offices receive funds from the campus Foundation Office, including private donations.
- Student numbers: The number of students registered with the disability resource office varies by both institutional size and institutional type. For example, on campuses with less than 1,500 total student enrollment, disability resource offices report an average of 94 students with disabilities registered with the office; for campuses with 10,001-19,000 total student enrollment, the average number is 752 registered students. (See the report for more information on campuses of other sizes as well as information on the average number of students at different types of campuses.)
- Student-staff ratios: With information now on the average number of full-time staff in the disability resource office and the average number of registered students, the report includes average student-staff ratios. They range from 94:1 on small campuses of less than 1,500 students to 159:1 on large campuses of 30,000 students or more. (See the report for more!)
As with all research, there are limitations to the study. Participation in this survey was voluntary and it could be that participants who elected to complete the survey differ from those who chose not to participate. There was a 30% response rate to the survey. While this is an acceptable rate it isn’t known to what extent this subgroup reflects the broader population of AHEAD members and their campuses. It is also not clear whether or to what extent this group differs from the general population of non-AHEAD members across the country. As noted throughout the Key Findings above, there were some questions, such as those related to office budget for example, where responses varied widely. This makes numerical averages less meaningful and it is important to use averages in tandem with other descriptive data or information.
The report is organized into four sections: About the Campus, About the Disability Resource Office, Staff, Budget, and Campus Constituents. Each section has a one-two page narrative summary called Section Highlights. The highlights include references to the tables of descriptive data that follow to help you dig deeper into the areas you want to know more about.
You may have specific questions already in mind related to your disability resource office. For example, is your campus discussing restructuring and possibly moving the disability resource office over to a new administrative reporting line? It may be useful to know how common that reporting line is for disability resource offices on other campuses across the country.
Or you may be a one-person office and are curious about the staffing levels at campuses like yours. How many part-time staff or student employees do other small campuses typically have? The data in this report will give you a benchmark to compare. If you are planning to advocate for additional staff, these national benchmarks are typically an important starting point for helping your supervisor understand that campus practices may be out of line with national practices.
It may be that in some areas your office exceeds the average practices reported in this survey. For example, if you are working at a Baccalaureate College (a college that provides mostly bachelor’s degrees) and you and/or your staff provided more than 10 training or outreach events last year, you performed better than 84% of your institutional peers in this area. If this is a priority area for your office and campus, this would be helpful data to include in an annual report about your office performance.
Want to know more about the findings of the AHEAD Biennial Survey? Log into the AHEAD website, and you will find this report and other benchmark data in the Information Service Portal: https://www.ahead.org/professional-resources/information-services-portal/benchmark-data.
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