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Why Aren’t There More Students With Disabilities In Engineering?

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Marketing Engineering as a Career Path to URMs

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1373.1 - 14.1373.5



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Paper Authors

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Ali Mehrabian University of Central Florida

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Walter Buchanan Texas A&M University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Why Aren’t There More Students with Disabilities in Engineering?


Students with physical disabilities are underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). According to the NSF (National Science Foundation)1, “a higher percentage of students with disabilities than of those without disabilities drop out of high school. Among students who were eighth graders in 1988, 10 percent of those with disabilities and 6 percent of those without disabilities had dropped out of school by 1994. Students with disabilities were less likely than those without to have received a high school diploma by 1994. Dropout and graduation rates vary by type of disability, with those with visual, hearing, or speech impairments least likely to have dropped out. Those with orthopedic impairments, learning disabilities, or "other" disabilities (including health problems, emotional problems, mental retardation, or other physical disabilities) were most likely to have dropped out”. National Education Longitudinal Study indicates that students with disabilities may be less academically prepared for college than those without disabilities: they were more likely to have taken remedial courses, less likely to have taken advanced placement courses, and had lower grade point averages and lower SAT scores (NCES 1999d). Among 1998 college freshmen, students with disabilities were more likely than those without to have earned Cs and Ds in high school. They were less likely to have met the recommended years of high school study in mathematics, biological sciences, and physical sciences; and to have spent more time between high school graduation and entry into college (Henderson 1999). The opportunity to study, conduct research, and establish a career in these fields is a reachable goal for students regardless of physical ability.

It is the goal of this paper to present some discussions and plans of action for providing long-term opportunities for university students with physical disabilities studying engineering and technology. At larger scale, this goal applies to both undergraduate and graduate students. However, in this paper we only discuss issues as they relate to undergraduate engineering and technology studies. We concentrate on engineering and technology, but we use STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) notation throughout this paper, as is commonly used by institutions of higher education, by National Science Foundation (NSF), and by many professionals performing research and teaching in this area. The long-term plan is to help students with disabilities to achieve a high level of success, both academically and professionally, through the removal of architectural, technological, and societal barriers that presently exist. Using this plan, we wish to create a model program that targets students who are physically disabled in order to increase the proportion following STEM curricula. Students with disabilities make up about 6 percent of all students enrolled in postsecondary institutions; 5.7 percent of all students who major in S&E fields and 6.6 percent of students who major in non-S&E fields. Presented here are some suggested programs that may help with this goal. We use our empirical observations as well as the observation of the others in this field to draw some of our conclusions.

Mehrabian, A., & Buchanan, W. (2009, June), Why Aren’t There More Students With Disabilities In Engineering? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5787

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