AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

TAG | disability

Greetings and welcome from the Disabilities and Underrepresented Populations TIG week.  We are June Gothberg, Chair and Caitlyn Bukaty, Program Chair.  This week we have a strong line up of great resources, tips, and lessons learned for engaging typically underrepresented population in evaluation efforts.

You might have noticed that we changed our name from Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations to Disabilities and Underrepresented Populations and may be wondering why.  It came to our attention during 2016 that sever of our members felt our previous name was inappropriate and had the potential to be offensive.  Historically, a little under 50% of our TIGs presentations represent people with disabilities, the rest are a diverse group ranging from migrants to teen parents.  The following Wordle shows the categorical information of presentations our TIGs presentation

Categories represented by the Disabilities and Underrepresented Populations presentations from 1989-2016

TIG members felt that the use of vulnerable in our name set up a negative and in some cases offensive label to the populations we represent.  Thus, after discussion, communications, and coming to consensus we proposed to the AEA board that our name be changed to Disabilities and Underrepresented Populations.

Lessons Learned:

  • Words are important! Labels are even more important!
  • Words can hurt or empower, it’s up to you.
  • Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions.

Hot Tips:

  • If we are to be effective evaluators we need to pay attention to the words we use in written and verbal communication.
  • Always put people first, labels last. For example, student with a disability, man with autism, woman with dyslexia.

The nearly yearlong name change process reminded of the lengthy campaign to rid federal policy and documents of the R-word.  If you happened to miss the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, there are several great video and other resources at

High School YouTube video

YouTube Video – Spread the Word to End the Word




Bill S. 2781 put into federal law, Rosa’s Law, which takes its name and inspiration for 9-year-old Rosa Marcellino, removes the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with people first language “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.” The signing of Rosa’s Law is a significant milestone in establishing dignity, inclusion and respect for all people with intellectual disabilities.

So, what’s in a name?  Maybe more than you think!


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I am Lori Peterson an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Recently, I worked on a project conducting a series of focus groups with high school students with disabilities. I wanted to share tips and lessons learned from this experience.

Hot Tips:

  • Feed them and they will come! High school students love food. We conducted the focus groups near lunch time and gave each group free pizza. We had almost 100% attendance.
  • Know the school calendar. We had an issue conducting focus groups on senior skip day!
  • Conduct focus groups on location. If you can work with the school and conduct focus groups on site, this eliminates the need for transportation. Students with disabilities may not drive, so this can increase the likelihood of participation.
  • Conduct focus groups during school hours. This offers the additional perk that some students enjoy ‘getting out of class’. There is a drawback though; you are limited to one class period. For many high schools this means you will only have 45-50 minutes to conduct the focus group.
  • Carefully consider how you group participants. Different group arrangements may inhibit student participation. Developmentally and cognitively, some participants may not be ready to open up and share information. The addition of a disability may confound disclosure of sensitive information. If you are collecting data from students with disabilities, be prepared to address the student’s comfort level related to their disability and skills.
  • Provide an Advanced Organizer. Many students with disabilities thrive in a structured setting and benefit from a schedule of events. Advanced Organizers help prepare participants for what is to come. Give options for written or visual format. Be careful not to deviate from the schedule or you may increase anxiety levels.

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Lessons Learned:

  • Provide multiple modes of data collection. Our most successful focus group for data collection allowed the students to fill out a short survey which they kept with them. This helped them communicate more effectively during the focus group.
  • Plan ahead for unanticipated needs. We had an unexpected Deaf participant who needed an interpreter, a guest to our focus group. Be ready to let the ‘guest’ know ‘the rules’ of your data collection. A handout listing the expectations will be helpful, e.g. please only interpret exact words, do not answer for the participant even if you disagree, do not interrupt the flow of conversation.
  • Provide multiple ways to state a question. A variety of skills and abilities may be represented. On several occasions in our focus groups, the moderator needed to provide alternate definitions and descriptions. Preparing for these will enhance consistency across groups.

Rad Resources:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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