Ashford University Offers Students with Disabilities Access to Higher Education

National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October recognizes contributions made by Americans with disabilities to the workforce and in society. Online higher education at Ashford University makes earning a college degree accessible for more students, including those with disabilities.

“Disability Awareness Month is a time for the community to celebrate differences and accept individuals for who they are, regardless of physical limitations,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tice, president of Ashford University, an accredited university offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs. “We are honored to embrace and support all students who are academically qualified and equally invested in receiving a high quality, higher education.”

Ashford University's student access and wellness associate director Poppy Fitch said, "The online classroom doesn't discriminate. For many students with disabilities, it's the first time they feel like they truly fit in.”

Pattie Smith, 53, of Columbus, Mo., overcame obstacles to earn her Ashford degree. She was confined to a wheelchair after suffering the paralytic effects of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder that compromises the nervous system. Shortly thereafter she resigned from a career as a hospital nurse. Smith, unable to care for patients, felt worthless. No occupation; no stamina; no livelihood.

"That was a very low point in my life,” Smith said, “However, I knew even then that the only way to improve my life was to expand on my education.”

Determined to move forward, Smith became the administrator of her own rescue and enrolled in Ashford University’s online program starting in 2010. She receives assistance from the student access and wellness department when needed. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology and behavioral sciences, she plans to become a counselor for abused and neglected adolescents and teenagers. Smith, who was once passionate about healing physical wounds as a nurse, now hopes to heal emotional wounds in her future profession and as a part-time volunteer at a local women’s shelter. 

Her advice to students with disabilities: “You can make the life changes you want. It’s out there, so go after it. You don’t have to be unhappy with who you are, regardless of age or disability. Education is never too late.”

Fitch says people with disabilities attend online universities and enjoy many of the same advantages as their classmates – primarily flexibility.

“Online students attend classes when and where they want, so long as they are academically qualified,” she said. “I believe education is the best reward a person can give themselves, not only for their career aspirations, but for the kind of life they wish to lead.”

The flexible online course schedule and accessibility from home inclined Victor Powell of Liberty, Miss., to enroll at Ashford University. Powell, 49, withdrew from Mississippi Valley State University after a ledge capsized on his spine during a jazz performance with the All American College Band at Epcot Center, Fla. 

Powell, who once captivated a crowd when playing the rich and edgy sounds of the trombone, was now paralyzed from the neck down; unable to perform. “After my accident, it was a great challenge,” Powell said. “I tried to go back to traditional school but couldn’t even turn book pages. I didn’t feel comfortable in a traditional setting.” Enter: Ashford University.

In 2010, Powell started taking education and social science courses through Ashford’s online program and relied on course-designed audio books prepared by the student access and wellness department. Powell aspires to become an educator of music, special education or teach elementary students. He expects to graduate this spring.

“Stay in school, no matter what obstacle pushes you out of the way,” Powell concluded. “Continue to learn, even if its 27 years later, like me. With new technologies in the digital age, education is always accessible.”


About Ashford University

Founded in 1918, Ashford University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association ( The University offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs online and at its Clinton, Iowa, campus. The University is known for its high quality yet highly affordable online and on-campus programs. For more information, please visit or call Shari Rodriguez, associate vice president of Public Relations, at 858.513.9240 x2513.