smiling female and male students sitting at computer; female in wheelchair, using mouse; Blue Ridge Community College brand martk and caption: Student Accessibility Services"

In October of 2023, Blue Ridge Community College made the decision to change the name of our Disability Services Office to Student Accessibility Services. Over the last few years, a growing number of college disability service centers have opted to use the term “accessibility” in lieu of “disability” in their office name. The goal of these changes is to become more inclusive and to better highlight the broad range of services offered. Additionally, the name Student Accessibility Services better aligns with Blue Ridge Community College’s defined values of Student Success and Adaptability.

Research has shown that using terms like ‘disabled’ and ‘disabilities’ creates a barrier for many students using or seeking to use services on college campuses. Many students also have misconceptions about the word disability. This is especially true for students that have invisible disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, mental health conditions, asthma, diabetes etc. Students with these conditions often do not know that they even qualify for accommodations. 

As an example, Saint Louis University’s (SLU) former Disability Services Office was rebranded as the Center for Accessibility and Disability Resources (CADR) at the outset of the fall 2021 semester. Since the name change, they report that more people are aware of and feel comfortable contacting the CADR office and they have seen an increase in demand for assistance. You can learn more about their story in the article, “Campus Disability Offices Rebranding to Become More Inclusive.”

Our understanding of the diverse needs and abilities of our students is constantly evolving. The term “disability” may not fully capture the range of conditions and needs that students have. “Accessibility” is more flexible and adaptable to our ever changing understanding of inclusivity. The term accessibility also better communicates that the services available encompass a wider range of support services beyond just accommodations, such as assistive technology, accessible materials, and training for faculty and staff. Using more inclusive language emphasizes the college’s commitment to accessibility, which is likely to attract a more diverse student body, including individuals with various needs and backgrounds. Having a more diverse student population enhances the overall educational experience and enriches campus life for everyone. 

For further reading and information, please read “The Strength of Inclusivity: Changing Our Language and Campus Culture.”