Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology (DO-IT) on the Electronic Highway

Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler
Dan Comden
University of Washington

Presented at CSUN Adaptive Technology Conference, 1994


The United States needs citizens trained in science, engineering, and mathematics, including individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, racial minorities, and individuals with disabilities. The National Science Foundation has funded a project through the College of Engineering at the University of Washington whose purpose is to recruit and retain students with disabilities into science, engineering, and mathematics academic programs and careers. DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) makes extensive use of computers, adaptive technology and the Internet network. Electronic communications provide new options for accessing people and resources through online discussion groups, mail services, library catalogs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, newspapers, and other information resources. Computers, when appropriately adapted for access, allow students with disabilities to use computer software to communicate with peers and faculty, and to access electronic information without assistance. This paper highlights several activities of the DO-IT program that make use of the Internet and can be replicated by other postsecondary schools, K-12 districts, and service providers.


Individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in science, engineering, and mathematics academic programs and careers. Few enter these fields and those who do experience high dropout rates. Causes of this problem include:

Goals and Objectives

The goals of DO-IT are to recruit and retain students with disabilities in science, engineering, and mathematics programs and careers and to act as a catalyst and resource for other institutions of higher education who wish to make similar efforts. DO-IT has developed the following objectives for reaching these goals:

DO-IT Scholars and Internet Activities

DO-IT Scholars are selected during their Sophomore or Junior year of high school on the basis of their interest and aptitude in science, engineering, or mathematics; their motivation to participate in the program; and the benefit of the program to them relative to other applicants. They must reside in the Northwest region (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington). The disabilities represented in the current group of Scholars include blindness, low vision, mobility/orthopedic impairments, hearing impairments, attention deficit disorder, specific learning disability, speech impairment, and brain injury. The DO-IT Scholars Program consists of three phases. Admission to Phases II and III is based upon the successful completion of previous phases and a desire to participate in the program. Scholars participate in the following Phase I activities, where Internet access plays a key role.


DO-IT Scholars learn to use computers to enrich their education and explore career opportunities, through information access and communications with college students, faculty, and professionals, on the Internet network. Scholars communicate electronically from home using computers, modems, software, Internet network connections and special adaptive technology. Local Internet connections are established through partner institutions. Students and their families receive in-home training on the use of the technology, electronic mail, and Internet resources. In addition, DO-IT staff send via electronic mail lessons on electronic mail and Internet use and other information about DO-IT, science, engineering, and mathematics.


Through electronic communications, personal meetings, and joint projects using the Internet, DO-IT Scholars are brought together with college students, faculty, and practicing engineers and scientists with disabilities to facilitate academic, career, and personal achievements. Post-secondary student mentors and career mentors study and work in fields that include computer programming, communications engineering, disabled student support, chemistry, research engineering, pre-college education, post-secondary education, statistics, engineering, computer science, computer consulting, adaptive technology, and biology. All mentors have access to the Internet network through the University of Washington or other host institutions. In addition to mentoring DO-IT Scholars, they contribute regularly to project ideas and implementation through electronic communication.

Summer Study

DO-IT Scholars study science, engineering, and mathematics by participating in lectures and labs and using computer applications and educational software, electronic mail, and resources on the Internet during a two-week, live-in, summer program at the University of Washington. Topics for investigation include oceanography; heart surgery; chemistry; virtual reality; adaptive technology; geophysics; material sciences, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering; mathematics; software training; biology; physics; astronomy; and climatology. Accommodations are made in each activity to ensure that all participants remain as active and as independent as possible.

Those who complete Phase I can continue with Phase II activities. In Phase II, participants apply their skills and knowledge to independent science projects, communicate with each other and mentors, mentor other students, and return a second summer to the UW campus, for a one-week program which overlaps the summer schedule of the new Phase I participants. Phase II activities include:

Individual Projects

Phase II participants design and complete independent science projects based on their individual interests. DO-IT mentors and staff provide assistance in planning and completing their projects. Individual projects selected by current Phase II participants include planning and organizing a tour of Batelle Pacific Laboratories, designing a computer-based CHAT system, working on virtual reality projects, evaluating software, and contributing to an electronic information service. Participants also contribute articles for DO-IT News and give input on various aspects of the project.

Summer Study

One year after the Phase I summer program, Phase II DO-IT Scholars return to the University of Washington campus to work on joint projects in science with faculty and other professionals during a one-week summer program. Participants develop knowledge, skills, and interests gained in the previous year by working on joint science projects with faculty and other professionals; and by presenting their individual projects to Phase I and II DO-IT Scholars, staff, and summer study faculty.


In addition to continuing their current mentor relationships, Phase II participants develop and practice communication and leadership skills by acting as peer mentors to Phase I participants, face-to-face during the summer study program and electronically before and after the summer session. DO-IT has also started an electronic mentoring outreach to patients at Seattle's Children's Hospital and Medical Center.

DO-IT Scholars completing Phase II are invited to participate in Phase III. Phase III includes opportunities for Scholars to be contributors to the DO-IT program through activities selected in cooperation with DO-IT staff. Several options include special mentoring responsibilities, scientific resource development, system administration, newsletter editing, working in the summer programs and other DO-IT sponsored events.

DO-IT has created an electronic bulletin board and gopher-server. They allow DO-IT to reach a wider audience to include anyone with a disability or interested in disability-related issues, or science, mathematics, and engineering teachers who have access to the Internet. An electronic list is used to distribute DO-IT newsletters and other publications. Discussion lists for mentors, Scholars, and staff facilitate communication and a campus distribution list facilitates coordination between campus units who provide services to disabled students.

Along with the Scholars program and Internet activities, DO-IT sponsors a variety of other activities, including:


The ultimate goal of DO-IT and similar programs is to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in academic programs and careers. Access to the electronic highway can play a critical role in reaching this goal. For more information, to be placed on the mailing list, or to share information about your program contact DO-IT, University of Washington, Box 354842, Seattle, WA 98195; Voice/TTY: (206) 685 DOIT; FAX (206) 685-4045; email doit@u.washington.edu.

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Sheryl Burgstahler
Last updated: Feb 4, 1998