How Disability Is Portrayed In University Websites


Roberta Armitage, University of Calgary, Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, Calgary, Canada

Email: Roberta Armitage

Keywords: disability, diversity, inclusivity, university websites, minorities


Attending university can change how a person perceives themselves. Finding one’s self can be achieved through studying at university: a person is able to understand what their values are, what goals they want to achieve, and ultimately prepare for the “real world.” At university, students and faculty possess diverse backgrounds, which in today’s society, is one of the main goals of any university. Ensuring that diverse backgrounds are supported throughout all aspects of the university is what the school strives for. But is this all actually true? Based on university websites, there are some issues regarding diversity. Not all diverse backgrounds are represented in university websites. For example, the disabled population is one diverse group that may not be shown in a positive light on university websites. The use of photos, text and links involved in a university website can either portray diversity or not. This paper will touch on how diversity is represented in university websites and what changes can be brought in the future to ensure that inclusion of many diverse backgrounds is obtained.

Organization of the Project

Completing a research project with a team of professionals, we embarked on answering the research question: how do university websites promote diversity? The project focused on five different schools so that we could compare and contrast how diversity was portrayed. The first focus we completed was reviewing the university websites and certain links within the websites where diversity should be apparent. Some examples that were included in the research were the home page, current students, future students, social organizations and the disability office. Once a snapshot was taken, the team of professionals used their perspectives to review what they thought the website was lacking. According to Bialka (2018), the university home page is the “virtual face,” which means that students will perceive the information on the home page as either positive or negative. If there is a lack of inclusivity, there could be a chance that the student may see the lack of diversity at the university, and therefore potentially choose a different school.

It was noted that along with the lack of minority groups in certain pages, it was also apparent that the disabled population were less involved than other minority groups. We noted on the disability office link that there were no disabled persons in any of the photos, but rather only focused on inclusive text. Gabel, Reid, Pearson, Ruiz, and Hume-Dawson (2016) completed a similar study which involved understanding how the disabled population is poorly represented in university websites. The authors state that students who have a disability are often seen as invisible due to the lack of support and recognition in the university (para. 12). This supports our research question that the disabled population are poorly represented, and can pose negativity to the students such as a lack of self-identity. Gabel et al. (2016) also make a valid point that if universities do attempt to support those with disabilities, a lot of the support is based on the medical model of disability (para. 20). The idea that the person with a disability should be “fixed” in order to “fit in” is widely used throughout the websites. Rather than focusing on the social model, where outside barriers are reduced to support those with disabilities, the universities attempt to ensure that there are resources available, which is not always the answer to the problem.

The lack of inclusivity of the disabled population is not uncommon. In a study completed by Flink (2018), it was found that the information presented to the disabled community was unclear, scattered and uncommon between the schools studied. This shows us that there is a lack of inclusivity in the websites as not all universities necessarily use the same language and standards to ensure that the disabled population is inclusively supported. Flink (2018) also states that the language used is another issue that needs to be addressed when completing the university websites. This is an issue that has been ongoing in our society and still needs to be addressed as diversity changes and flourishes. Lastly, Flink also states that the services available from a disability perspective are still lacking. While a school may offer certain services to assist those with disabilities, it is not uncommon that the services may be unavailable for some students. For example, a disability office offers accessible equipment, support and resources to ensure that students are able to be successful in the school. However, this school only gives this option to students who are on campus. In a world where it is normal for some students to be unable to attend class on campus, this shows the lack of inclusivity for certain types of students. As we continue to understand how to become a more inclusive society, we must remember that there are different types of students who deserve to feel included in the diverse student population.


In the end, we concluded that universities still have many issues that need to be solved. For instance, the lack of photos of students with disabilities represented throughout the website is one minority group that is usually missed. As a continuing student working toward a more inclusive future, we must continue to advocate for these individuals in hopes that they will no longer be under represented. University is where students are able to understand who they are as a person, however some minority groups are unable to achieve this due to the lack of support and resources. It is our duty to continue to pose these concerns to universities in hopes that there may be better representation of the disabled population. As stated by Merkl, Agans, Hegeman, Tuitt and Uhrmacher (2012), it is important that in the future a “Diversity Statement” must be consistent with all university websites. A document outlining how to properly ensure that all minority groups are positively represented is a key component of how universities organize their websites. As students of the community rehabilitation program, we are able to take this knowledge and integrate that into our own research of how to bring inclusivity and diversity to our university websites, especially for minority groups such as the disabled population.


Bialka, C. (2018). College students with disabilities are too often excluded. Academic Matters. Retrieved from

Flink, P. (2018). Assessment of disability services information variability among websites of one university system. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1-11. Retrieved from

Gabel, S., Reid, D., Pearson, H., Ruiz, L., Hume-Dawson, R., & Worthington, Roger L. (2016). Disability and diversity on CSU websites: A critical discourse study. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9(1), 64-80. Retrieved from

Merkl, L., Agans, L., Hegeman, D., Tuitt, F., & Uhrmacher, B. (2012). Maintaining or disrupting inequality: diversity statements in the university. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Retrieved from

Author Biographical Notes

Roberta Armitage is currently a student in the Bachelor Degree of Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at the University of Calgary. Once graduated, she plans continue her education with a Master’s Degree of Occupational Therapy.


International Journal of Disability, Community & Rehabilitation
Student Perspectives 2019
ISSN 1703-3381