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Disabled Student Success Is Our Mission

Breaking new ground when it launched in August 2023, the National Disability Center for Student Success will establish the first comprehensive and actionable research to support disabled student experiences and achievement after high school.

Our vital mission impacts millions of college students in the U.S. who have a disability – studies show they are less likely to persist in their studies, graduate with degrees, and achieve their career goals – and it’s essential for the thousands of institutions that educate and train them.

The National Disability Center’s research team is an innovative collaboration between disabled students and faculty members, along with national partners. As we work toward our goals, we strive to:


the inclusion of disabled students (in classrooms and throughout campus)


degree completion efforts (to achieve their academic dreams)


readiness for the workforce (and for life)

The ADA is the Floor, Not the Ceiling

While many people cite the legal obligations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as the means to provide basic accommodations and classroom accessibility, the ADA is the floor — not the ceiling — for true access and inclusion.

The ADA-only approach doesn’t consider the lack of accessibility or the non-inclusive nature of our college campuses, both inside and outside the classroom.

The National Disability Center’s work focuses on the need to go beyond ADA compliance to shift our systems and create a culture among all campus stakeholders that includes disability as part of a diverse and vibrant student body.

About Our Funding

The National Disability Center was established with a $5 million grant (Cooperative Agreement #R324C230008) from the Institute of Education Sciences, the nation’s engine for independent educational research within the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant was awarded to principal investigator Stephanie W. Cawthon, PhD, professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, where the National Disability Center is housed at the Texas Center for Equity Promotion.

Dr. Cawthon, who is deaf, is building upon her decades of research into how disabled students learn and thrive, as well as her experience developing innovative research models that use collaboration to achieve student-centered insights and findings.

What Our Stakeholders Need to Know

The work of the National Disability Center is rarely to introduce entirely new information but rather to deepen understanding, connect the lived experiences of disabled students with higher education practices, and identify examples of how pain points are addressed and problems solved in similar contexts.

In some cases, the accessibility framework can be connected to existing understandings of diversity, inclusion, and student success. In other cases, an awareness of ableism and the disabled student experiences are the missing links in student support.

We aim to target the following content areas by stakeholder.

Postsecondary Students with Disabilities
  • Navigating the journey: Postsecondary search, admission, arrival, survival, thriving, and transition to a career.
  • Deciding to disclose: How, when, and why to disclose a disability status in college and other postsecondary settings and in the transition to the workforce.
  • Finding a social network: Building a peer network, connecting with instructors, leveraging institutional resources.
Instructors and Faculty Members
  • Learning about disabled student experiences and how they engage with course materials.
  • Understanding accessibility strategies and mindset, including syllabus, course activities, and grading.
  • Seeking support and advocating for institutional support for classroom accessibility.
Higher Education and Training Program Administrators
  • Awareness-raising about disability and access needs for disabled students.
  • Strategies to support PSWD in enrollment, persistence, and completion.
  • Systemic approaches to accessible programs that benefit all participants.
  • Conducting research with or on disabled students that reflects their lived experiences.
  • Mentoring disabled students on research teams and building a pipeline of future researchers.
  • Translating research for and with the disability community.
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