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Bias in Higher Education Disability Accommodation Services (WP-21-34)

James Druckman, Jeremy Levy, and Natalie Sands

For students with disabilities, educational success often depends on the accommodations provided by their colleges. The researchers study the decision-making process for disability accommodations in higher education by implementing a large-scale survey experiment with staff who work in disability services at U.S. colleges. They find evidence of disability specific bias – against those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as opposed to a vision impairment. This bias appears in respondents’ attitudes toward students and their expectations about which students will receive accommodations. The researchers offer evidence that perceptions of work ethic underlie the disability bias. Their exploration into racial bias arrives at a nuanced picture – they find evidence of racial bias, but it is concentrated only among staff who report not having taken a racial bias training course. They conclude with a discussion of possible steps to minimize bias and move towards a more equitable allocation of disability services.

This paper is published in Economics of Education Review.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Jeremy Levy, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

Natalie Sands, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

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