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Federal Study Shows Universities Lack Plans for, Feds Lack Attention to Student Sexual Assault Victims with Disabilities

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


January 30, 2018

Washington, DC – The National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent federal advisory body – today will release and discuss the results of a national study on college sexual assault policies as they pertain to student victims with disabilities during a policy briefing sponsored by the American University Sexual Assault Working Group. The briefing will take place at American University.  

NCD’s study found that students with disabilities are not “on the radar” of colleges in their sexual assault prevention efforts, policies, or procedures for response and support after an assault. This includes the absence of procedures to communicate with victims who are Deaf or hard of hearing and inaccessible support services for students with mobility disabilities. Similarly, NCD’s study found that students with disabilities are invisible in federal research and grant programs on campus sexual assault. This all against the backdrop of a study by the Association of American Universities that revealed that 31.6 percent of undergraduate females with disabilities reported nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation, compared to 18.4 percent of undergraduate females without disabilities.

The findings and recommendations in the resulting report, Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities, are the product of interviews with experts on sexual assault on college campuses, experts on sexual abuse against people with disabilities, college professionals and staff, Title IX coordinators, and sexual assault services administrators; as well as two national questionnaires that included college students with disabilities. Colleges that participated came from 14 states and the District of Columbia, 7 of 10 federal regions, 2-year and 4-year colleges, and both private and public.     

“Sexual assault has become a topic of concern in all facets of our nation, including on campuses, but seldom has the conversation included consideration of the needs of victims with disabilities,” said Wendy Harbour, NCD Council Member and Director of the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, based at the Association on Higher Education And Disability (AHEAD). “It is our hope that this report will contribute to the national conversation becoming more inclusive in the near future and that students with disabilities will no longer remain ‘not on the radar’ as one interviewee remarked.”

Quick Report Takes:

  • Colleges lack policies and procedures to ensure disability-related supports are readily available to students to communicate with sexual assault first responders.
  • Campus assault prevention and education programs are not inclusive of students with disabilities, and college staff lack awareness that such programs should be accessible to students with disabilities, and staff are not trained in disability accommodations.
  • Based on the colleges that participated in NCD’s research, no mention of accommodations was made on any of the reviewed Title IX websites, which include vital information to students regarding sexual assault policies of schools.
  • Federal research studies on sexual assault on college campuses, funded by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and the National Institute of Justice, have not included disability as a demographic as they have race, nationality, and sexual orientation.
  • There is an absence of collaboration between campus organizations for students with disabilities and sexual violence survivor groups, limiting opportunities for cultural competence and increased awareness.

Report Recommendations:

A small sampling of the report’s recommendations includes:

  • NCD recommends that Congress amend the Clery Act to:

    • Require colleges to collect the number of all reported sexual assaults on students with disabilities and include this information in their annual security report.
    • Require colleges to include a description of disability-related accommodations available to students with disabilities who have experienced sexual assault in their descriptions of procedures that schools will follow once an incident of domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking occurs.
    • Require memoranda of understanding between colleges and local law enforcement to include protocols for communicating with students who are Deaf.
  • NCD recommends that the Department of Education (ED) develop and publish a technical assistance document or training for colleges on the rights of students with disabilities to have necessary accommodations in the process of reporting assault, utilizing sexual assault support services, and in the institutional disciplinary process.
  • NCD recommends that the ED Office for Civil Rights should inform colleges that they must provide required Title IX information in accessible formats to students with disabilities.
  • NCD recommends that the Bureau of Justice Statistics should include students with disabilities as a demographic when conducting research on sexual assault on college campuses.
  • NCD recommends that DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women include students with disabilities as a demographic when funding research on sexual assault on college campuses.
  • NCD recommends that the Center for Campus Public Safety should include information on disability, including communicating with victims who are Deaf or hard of hearing, in their trauma-informed training programs for school officials and campus and local law enforcement.

Interviews: Disability experts and higher education experts who participated in or have recently read this report are available for interview upon request. Contact NCD at to arrange.

Report:  Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities is available for download at:

An official website of the National Council on Disability