University of Washington


Program Summary: The goal of the DO-IT Scholars Program is to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers. Its mission is to promote the use of computing and networking technologies to increase independence, productivity, and participation in education and employment. The DO-IT Scholars Program was established in 1992. Washington state high school students with disabilities are encouraged to apply. Priority is given to students in their sophomore year, with second priority given to juniors; freshmen are considered on a space-available basis. The DO-IT Scholars Program consists of three phases. At the end of each phase, Scholars are asked to evaluate their experiences. DO-IT Scholars who complete the program become DO-IT Ambassadors and as such they mentor new Scholars and share their experiences with them.

Program Structure/Design: The DO-IT Program includes the following three phases. Phase I consists of internetworking, mentoring, and Summer Study I (a two-week seminar during the summer the Scholars are accepted into the program). During internetworking, Scholars learn to use computers to enrich their education and to explore academic and career interests. Special adaptive technology is loaned as needed to Scholars for the duration of their program participation. During mentoring, college students, faculty, and practicing professionals in technical fields (many of whom have disabilities) work with Scholars. During the two-week seminar, called Summer Study I, Scholars live in residence halls for at the University of Washington and participate in lectures and labs. Phase II takes place the second year of the Scholars involvement in the program, and provides them with information and assistance about college application procedures. It also includes projects, internetworking and mentoring, and Summer Study II. During the project section, Scholars design and complete independent and team projects. During internetworking and mentoring, Scholars act as peer mentors for incoming DO-IT Scholars. During Summer Study II, Scholars return to the University of Washington for one week in the summer to complete projects and to meet with other key personnel. Phase III occurs the final year of program involvement, and includes opportunities for Scholars to work in internships and contribute to the DO-IT community. After high school graduation, Scholars become program Ambassadors and help with program activities, participate in electronic communication, and mentor young Scholars.

States of Operation: WAODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2007


School-Based Preparatory Experiences: The learning landscape’s evolution is clear in this program. Simply learning about a subject is not enough for the students. The program’s added value is in experiential education, which is central to the program. During their two week-long, live-in summer programs on campus, DO-IT Scholars participate in lectures and labs using computer applications, educational software, electronic mail, and resources on the Internet network. Subjects studied include oceanography, heart surgery, chemistry, virtual reality, adaptive technology, geophysics, material sciences, engineering (civil, mechanical, and electrical), mathematics, software training, biology, physics, astronomy, and climatology. Participants learn to access standards-based curricula using computers.

Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: Even in an academic setting, practicing careers pales in comparison to more direct contact with the real world of work, which students obtain by observing employees at work through job shadowing opportunities, by learning about real-world career experience directly from their mentors who work in that real world, and by gaining hands-on experience with the tools of work. Throughout the year, DO-IT Scholars and mentors are invited to participate in employment-related activities hosted by the University of Washington, corporations, and other organizations. Phase II DO-IT Scholars design and complete independent projects based on their individual interests.

Youth Development and Leadership: Scholars develop and strengthen their leadership skills when they become peer-to-peer mentors for their colleagues. Post-program Scholars become mentors to younger program participants. During the third year, students participate on panels to share experiences with younger participants, and help them transition successfully to college. The communication and leadership skills they develop extend beyond the DO-IT Program.

Connecting Activities: The entire premise of the DO-IT Program is individualized support through a sophisticated and extensive mentoring program involving both adult advisors and mentors and peer-to-peer mentoring. The fact that DO-IT mentors and peers who have disabilities work with Scholars who have similar disabilities is a major strength of the program. As needs arise, students are provided with individual guidance in arranging attendant care, gaining access to accommodations on postsecondary campuses, and arranging for tutoring and other support services.


Management: Sheryl Burgstahler directs DO-IT and the University of Washington’s Accessible Technology Services. Program coordinators who manage the operations, technical support, and activities report to DO-IT Program Manager Scott Bellman. The program’s central offices are located on the campus of the University. The year-round staff recruits for the DO-IT Scholars program, collects applications and presents them to the advisory board, notifies accepted Scholars, provides them with necessary technology in their homes, recruits and trains mentors, and coordinates the Summer Study and mentoring aspects of the program. Most meetings are organized around topics (e.g. website development, Summer Study preparation). A team approach is employed in which each project includes a team leader and his or her teammates.

Collaboration: DO-IT Scholars come from all over the state of Washington. When conflicts arise at school, DO-IT Scholars work with program staff members to develop and affirm their self-determination and leadership skills so that they can advocate for themselves. Sometimes DO-IT staff members participate in IEP teams, communicate with computer lab staff, or deliver presentations to the faculty. Work-based learning experiences are sponsored by businesses and agencies throughout the state. When jobs are available but the job-site organization lacks salary funds, DO-IT can often arrange to pay the Scholar for work at the outside organization.


Data: DO-IT conducted a follow-up survey of 155 of the 173 total program participants; of those surveyed, 75 responded. The questionnaire was divided into four sections: 1) Personal information; 2) Summer Study programs; 3) Year-round computer and internet activities; 4) Changes in Scholars as a result of participation. Results were both quantitative and qualitative. Following are extrapolations from the result of that survey:

Primary Disability
Physical 41%
Sight 13%
Learning 12%
Hearing 9%
Speech 1%
Other 23%


Education and Training
Graduated from high school by time surveyed 91%
Are or were participating in postsecondary education or formal training 88%


Skills Developed
Computer skills 25%
Internet skills 17%
Academic skills 14%
Other 12%


Value of Skills in Summer Study Program
Social skills 65%
Career or employment skills 59%
Academic skills 47%


Specific Skills Developed (or Assisted) by Computer or Internet Training
Academic skills 67%
Career or employment skills 61%
Social skills 51%


Currently employed 41%


The DO-IT survey also asked program completers to rate the growth at which their skills and other aspects of personal development improved as a result of DO-IT Program participation. All but one respondent indicated such improvement.
When asked about the greatest impact they perceived from DO-IT, participants responded as follows:

Positive outlook on life and disability 30%
Expand social network 24%
Improve technical skills 16%
Boost confidence in college life 8%
Increase career choices 5%


DO-IT conducted an analysis of electronic mail messages to explore whether computer-mediated communication can be used to initiate and sustain peer-peer and mentor-protégé relationships and alleviate barriers to in-person communication faced by individuals with disabilities. It also compared peer-peer and mentor-protégé email interactions.

Research staff analyzed 12,539 email messages between 49 students with disabilities and 35 adult mentors. Results support the electronic community as a favorable environment in which to provide peer and mentor support for school students with disabilities.

Third-Party Documentation:

DO-IT has received numerous awards and has been written about in numerous journals, as follows:

  • President’s Award of Excellence for Mentoring in Science, Engineering and Mathematics Fields.
  • Outstanding program award from AHEAD (Association of Higher Education and Disability)
  • The National Information Infrastructure Award
  • President’s Summit on Volunteerism
  • Golden Apple Award for excellence in education
  • King County Vocational/Special Education Cooperative Adult Services Agency Award
    Journal Publications
  • Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 2001.
  • Journal of Special Education Technology, May, 2004.
  • American Rehabilitation, Autumn, 2003.
  • Journal of Vocational Education, 2001.
  • Current Research in Disability Studies, 1995.
  • Information Technology and Disabilities, 1997.


Organization Name: University of Washington
Organization Director: Sheryl Burgstahler
Program Name: DO-IT (Disabilities Opportunities Internetworking Technology) Scholars Program
Street Address: Box 354842, University of Washington
City: Seattle
State: WA

Contact Person: Sheryl Burgstahler
Contact E-mail: