Creating Accessible Campuses

My Student Union is doing work right now around issues of student residences. This is something that’s very much on my mind right now in light of the recent highlighting of difficulties of having a service animal when living on campus. In reading the Yummy Puppy Adventures – or, more accurately, the Mount Holyoke College Accessibility Fail – I started to really think about what an accessible residence experience would look like for students with disabilities.

So of course I brought it up to one of my student union executives, and instead of, say, asking students with disabilities for feedback on the issue, or contacting student accessibility services, he suggested I send him an email detailing out my concerns.

(In his defense, it is a month until school is over, and he is busy, and he doesn’t even know what to ask. I’m not irritated with him, just with the situation in general.)

So, this is the short list of things that I’ve come up with, but I know from previous discussions with the community that I will miss important things that should be considered.

In no order:

  • Clearly post that service animals are allowed around campus and in campus dorms and facilities.
  • List on both your residence page and your student accessibility services page that there are residences for students with disabilities.
  • Private washrooms with grip bars for toilet & shower/bath.
  • Wider doors & hallways.
  • Barrier free access to all dorm rooms.
  • Residence Orientation that mentions accessibility features to all students, including re-iterating scent free policies and that service animals are allowed on campus.
  • The ability to change any room over to have lights that flash for alerts.
  • A map of campus that indicates all barrier-free access points to all buildings.
  • Highlighting menu plans that accommodate food allergies or intolerances.

I’m certain I’m missing obvious things.

Please, give me your thoughts?

34 thoughts on “Creating Accessible Campuses

  1. Copious seating and AC/furnace kept at reasonable temperatures.

    Something for hard of hearing/Deaf/auditory processing difficulties?

  2. Hello!

    As well as the private washroom thingummy, you might also ask that some washrooms are, in fact, wet rooms which will more easily allow wheelchair users to bathe independently. And get this – the able-bodied will also be able to use them! w00t!

    Going on with my bathroom obsession (it becomes one when they aren’t always available, believe you me…), a commitment to have a disabled toilet in every ‘public’/communal area, said convenience to be made accessible and kept in good repair and clean at all possible times.

    A further consideration is ye olde Braille and other accessible media chesnut for our VI friends. Really every bod putting out material should be aware of this and the differing needs of the people affected. Too often, they aren’t.

  3. Anywhere that people might have to stand in line, there should be a clear place to sit down while still keeping your place in line.

    Anywhere that you have to talk to someone behind a barrier (I’m mostly thinking of cafeterias where you tell the worker what you want and the worker puts it on a plate and hands it to you), there should be someplace with a counter low enough for people who use wheelchairs or short people.

  4. Make sure that contact information is easily found and kept updated – either on the website or in the office.

    Because you never know what *you* will need, and e-mailing/calling people really goes a long way.

  5. @Kaitlyn: Also, providing email addresses as well as phone numbers on any place contact info is provided. (Or, at the very least, training employees on how to answer relay calls– I’ve called so many people that Just Didn’t Get It, and did backchannel talking not realizing that the interpreter would transcribe all of it…)

    For that matter, at any orientation-type events and other big assemblies, have a sign interpreter and/or real-time captioning. FAR too many times, I have not been able to understand half of what was said over the loudspeaker at these sorts of things. (My ASL is extremely poor and I’d personally prefer captions, but I know others’ preferences differ.)

  6. Some issues friends of mine had in colleges:

    Difficulty with communal laundry rooms because of fragrance sensitivities/allergies: perhaps a designated hypoallergenic detergent etc. ONLY room, if this is not mandated in all laundry rooms–I have not attended a college where there was any policy about detergents people could use. Also posted signs reminding people not to remove other people’s laundry; my friend often had to rewash her laundry because someone removed it and it got detergent or fabric softener or whatever on it.

    Difficulty keeping personal dishes/cookware separate in cases of allergies. I had a friend with a severe wheat allergy, and she as able to make arrangements to get a locked cabinet in the dorm’s kitchen to keep her pans in (she cooked a lot–I don’t remember how accommodating the dining hall was, but probably not very–so keeping pans in her room wasn’t an option like it was for most of us).

  7. My experience in college was that many students with ADHD were able to get single rooms.

    Smoke-free dorms were my personal must. While I loved my building, there were too many other people’s rooms in other buildings I couldn’t visit too long because of the smoke.

    Other things my campus did do: certain lectures for all freshman were recorded, so any of us could re-listen at any time.

    Re: wheelchairs and short people. Over winter break my freshman year they drilled peepholes in every dorm room on campus. My roommate and I laughed at the uselessness of ours, however: I was too short (1.47 m) to see out it without getting my footstool every time and she was visually impaired so it was all a blur to her.

    Long story short: drill peepholes at wheelchair height and short people will be able to use them too.

  8. One thing that must be done – in general – is increase funding for colleges. Just because I don’t go to a private school, I should not be denied freedom of access.

    Because I look at these and go… my school is so broke it’s not funny.

    One example – peepholes. I’d love peepholes in my dorm! But how much would it cost to put two in? “Eh, forget it.”

    One thing that pisses me off – my dorm has no seating inside the lobby areas. None. The other dorms have couches and such, we have nothing but big empty spaces. And of course the malfunctioning elevators…

    In happy news, people really want to help. I want to see a movie tomorrow night. For various reasons, it may be in a regular room, not an auditorium or theater. So uncomfortable chairs. Do you know what I did? I called the people in charge of the event. I got the e-mail address of the person in charge. She called me. I wasn’t just dismissed as some crank – and I didn’t even bring up student disability, I just said I’d be uncomfortable, I really want to go, what can we do?

    I’m proud of myself for doing that, and I’m pleased with the results. (Of course, the movie has been critically panned, but I have no taste so I may love it!) The pain made me step outside my box in a big way.

    Oh, my adviser told me about a colleague of hers a few years back who was “handicapped” (I took that to mean he used a wheelchair) and there were parts of the building inaccessible to him.

    Back to helping people at college – therapy, therapy, therapy! Make it cheap and easy to find. I know it’s not for everybody, but those who need it… I wish I’d started earlier.

    Another thing – increase things like “Tiger Patrol” – from 6pm to 2am 7 days a week, you can call a number and one of two things will happen. A golf cart will come up and you’ll get a ride. Or a member of “tiger patrol” will come along and you will effing walk. Safety in numbers, I guess.

    It should be available all day, or if they have to save money, to those who “demonstrate a need” and register with disability. I would love to go to the gym, but it’s a long walk. And sometimes I don’t go to classes because it hurts to walk. (Of course if it hurts to walk, it will hurt to sit, but still.)

    One thing that ticks me off about Tiger Patrol is that it’s not available when the health center is open. And the health center has no parking lot, not that you should be driving when you have the flu or something!

    But these are specific to the U of M.

    We are broke, but we have a new university center! (which is nowhere near the center of campus) The UC’s opening was delayed because of ADA issues, which is the UC’s fault – they knew the rules when they started. And it’s open too soon – there’s a box with wires where a button is meant to go, a button on almost every outside door on campus, a button that opens the door for you. (It has a wheelchair on it.)

    Anyways, we may be broke, but people do make up for it.

    Also this – “(In his defense, it is a month until school is over, and he is busy, and he doesn’t even know what to ask. I’m not irritated with him, just with the situation in general.)” – argh!!! I ran into that “defense” last semester. At the beginning of November, they were busy arranging exams. When I came back after Thanksgiving, I knew having them help me would be a waste because it was even closer to exams. I still had appointments, had everything on the up and up in case a professor refused to help, but seriously, arrange your crises so they don’t happen near exams.

  9. @ abby_jean: Yes! And for that matter, let it be known that disability services are there for people with mental health concerns. I didn’t know this in university, when my depression and anxiety disorder were untreated and at their worst, and things would have been much easier on me if I’d known I could have some fucking help.

  10. Make it a priority to have all elevators in working order!

    Not only should employees should be trained in relay calls, but students working the dorm entries and computer labs, and residential assistants on the dorm floors should be trained in disability issues in general.

  11. Great question. From my experiences I’d add having quiet dorm rooms available as an accommodation for people with sensory sensitivities. Also, people should not be forced to switch dorm rooms for being weird and having mental health issues. I also would have appreciated it if my school had been more open to the idea that a single room can be a reasonable accommodation in many circumstances.

  12. @JoSelle – “You’re an adult, we don’t hold your hand.” was probably why no one told you about the services offered. I hate that. We don’t know, and often school websites are not easy to navigate or updated frequently.

    If I didn’t cut through the psych building for years, I may not have known we had a psychological services center. The advertise *career* counseling regularly but the therapy is buried somewhere in the papers and guides you get as a freshman. It’s not well known, which makes me sad.

    I wish therapy was more accepted in American culture, for that matter, so people wouldn’t feel “ashamed” or that they “failed”. Or that parents wouldn’t feel that way – “where did I go wrong that you need a stranger to talk to?” (Not my mom’s reaction, thankfully!)

    Because we don’t talk enough about our feelings in college (and other spaces). How am I supposed to know that “every” or “most” college students feel that way? No one talks about it!

  13. Expanded dining hall hours, even if it’s just for things like cold cereal and other things that are stable at room temperature.

    Compromising between fireproof doors (those things are fucking heavy) and doors that are easily opened and will stay open long enough for people to get through. And with handles that are easily manipulated. (Also let’s make them whoosh open like the doors on the Enterprise, since these are clearly doors that don’t exist yet.)

    @Shiyiya, I would settle for thermostats that actually work. None of the campus housing I was ever in seemed to have temperature regulation of any sort and it was either freezing or sweltering.

  14. *Clearly posting ingredients in the meals for people with food allergies and sensitivities. (Also helps people who avoid certain foods for religious reasons.)
    *In theater and dance performances, clearly post if there are going to be strobe lights or other types of potentially triggering flashing lights.
    *This might just be my school, but: wheelchair accessible table spaces should not have chairs sitting in front of them.
    *Doors that can be opened by pushing a button (I don’t remember if these have a name.)
    *I don’t know what to ask for about this, but the biggest problem for me, in terms of accessibility, are the florescent lights everywhere.

  15. @Assiya: “Clearly posting ingredients in the meals for people with food allergies and sensitivities. (Also helps people who avoid certain foods for religious reasons.)”

    Argh, yes, this is one that irritates me as well. At my university, they’ll warn for common allergies and religious taboos, but not anything that’s less common. For instance, I’m allergic to fresh pineapples (but not canned ones, interestingly enough– it’s the enzyme that’s only found in fresh ones!), and they never warn about that one, making it quite a surprise indeed when I find chunks of pineapple in a meal where I didn’t expect them. (Thankfully, they’re usually canned ones…)

    Even worse, of course, is when they don’t even identify what the meals are, as sometimes happens at catered events. Then I’m afraid to get anything without asking what it is first, because I’m not even sure what flavor/texture to expect, much less whether it’s something I’m allergic to.

  16. Communicate

    If you move a student with a service animal to a dorm, notify the RAs BEFORE the person moves in. Life will be much easier for everyone and it will avoid misconceptions. About two weeks after my stuff was moved into my new room, I had an unpleasant experience with a RA my building. It started out everyone on the wrong foot, and a couple of days later I had a different RA at my door apologizing for the other the RA; she said the RA I ran into before felt really bad and wanted to come by and apologize, but didn’t know what to say to me. Of course I felt equally bad! What a horrible way to meet someone for the first time. Don’t put your residents in that position.

    Respect privacy. Know and train staff in HIPPA and FERPA rights regarding a student’s personal medical information. Develop and implement a policy. Well meaning doesn’t equal respectable or legal.

  17. While we’re talking mental health accommodations, make sure the school counselors know what the rules are for students who have temporarily dropped out. Wasn’t really pleased to be told “please come back next semester because I’m not sure if you’re entitled to services right now” (They let me stay in the dorms, at least)

  18. Oh Sasha, that’s totally my go-to link for how to make your event accessible. For realz. I always talk about how WisCon is the most accessible event I’ve been to, including events that were planned specifically for PWD.

  19. Don’t fret, Assiya! Campus life is campus life, and my biggest problem with my uni right now is accessibility services ends at the classroom door.

  20. @Assiya “*This might just be my school, but: wheelchair accessible table spaces should not have chairs sitting in front of them.”

    Unless the tables are meant just for students who use wheelchairs, sometimes people who cannot sit at a regular desk (the ones where the desk is attached to the chair) need those tables as well.

    I sat at a table placed in a room by disability services for another student (in another class) because I couldn’t sit at the desk and take notes and think. At the same time.

    Also – pregnant students aren’t always comfortable in desks where they can’t push back. I remember I took a test at a table (the class was in an auditorium where you swung the desk around in front of you) and the woman next to me was pregnant and far along.

    But I do understand the frustration! In one of my classes, there is a table with loose chairs under it, and every day the desks are in disarray (luckily we have a class of, um, 8 people, and 6 show up regularly), and I would hate to come in that room if I were using a wheelchair, the amount of chairs and desks to move just to get in, or to get to the table (which doesn’t face the dry erase board) is too much. It’s ridiculous.

  21. I have a friend currently in law school and disability services won’t even talk to her without a letter from a doctor. She needs to talk to them to find out what needs to be in the letter from her doctor so that she doesn’t have to go back a second time for a second letter after she has talked to them. *facepalm* [Sarcasm: Way to be accommodating, Disability Services.]

  22. I’m sure the actual technology is very different from when I was in college, but the accessibility issue is probably still relevant: clear and prominent information about any adaptive tech computer labs, what hardware and software is available there, and how one accesses them. Making sure the IT offices and the disability services offices are aware of each other.

  23. Monica, I wonder if your friend goes to my university. *cough*

    Sweet Machine, yes, exactly. I may need to draft another email specifically about that. My understanding at my university is it can take up to 8 weeks to bring in software that students with accessibility needs would require.

  24. Sweet Machine – you want them to communicate with each other? Hahahahaha, it will be quicker for the PWD to walk/wheel said info over and back before they even think of opening up their e-mail program or picking up a phone.

    And seconded on the need a doctor’s note. Luckily, they could fax it in, but I still had to go see my PCM. “Still in pain?” They only required it when I spent a month at home on the couch, not at the beginning of each semester, when I have to meet with them and get a sheet of paper for each professor and I never ever remember to make the appointment until school is started…

  25. That reminds me – I’d really like to see dedicated Professional Development Time for staff & faculty to learn about accommodating disabilities among students, staff, and faculty members. Or, at a minimum, how to do so for students. And that it should be offered every year to incoming TAs.

    [My uni, bless, offers this every other year. I understand why they do that. But I still want it every year because there’s a need.]

  26. Physical accessibility in more than one dormatory setting. We had an accessible dorm at my undergraduate college Well, but non-disabled students had a choice of dorms.

    Inclusiveness in the student handbook. At my medical school, the handbook only mentioned testing accommodations for students with learning disabilities. There was no mention of students with physical disabilities or any acommodations besides those related to exams.

    Not requiring recent doctor’s notes for static, long term conditions. If I couldn’t handwrite an essay in 1999, at the age of 23, chances are pretty good I still can’t handwrite one in 2003 at the age of 27. But my note was more than 3 years old.

    Listening to the student’s individual need, not “what we do” for a given condition. People with the same condition may have different needs.

    Permitting students to discuss their own disability with professors. I was told that bringing up my disability and asking what the course would require (so that I could determine whether I would need an accommodation) was in itself an acommodation, and so I would have to go through the accommodation office. A student should not be required to make a formal request for an accommodation to say to the professor, “I have trouble with handwriting, are there going to be essay exams in this course?” or “I have poor balance, how long do students typically stand up during their clinical experience with you?”

    Freedom from ablist comments in the curriculum would be nice, but that may be asking too much.

  27. Oh, also, on a mental health note– *multiple* options for contact.

    For the longest time, the web site and informational pamphlets for my university’s psych services office claimed that the only way to be seen by the office was to do a telephone intake.

    I have auditory processing issues that make it very difficult to comprehend unfamiliar voices over the phone. I really did not want to discuss psych issues via relay service– I was depressed enough already at that time, and a relay call would just be an exercise in frustration for me, the receptionist, and the relay operator…

    It turns out that they were willing to make an exception and do an in-person intake for people with hearing and speech disabilities. But apparently they had never bothered to mention this little bit of information on their web site or in any of their informational brochures. (It’s since been fixed after I pointed this out to them in a disability advocacy meeting.)

    Also, on that note: 24/7 mental health support. I seem to always get most depressed on nights and weekends– i.e., when all the available resources are closed!

  28. I second the request for quiet rooms and or maybe halls in dorms. Also, a meal delivery service from dining halls to dorms for students would be very helpful for various disabilities. We were allowed to order pizzas to be delivered to the dorms but I wouldn’t advise that for every day. Since they do menus so far in advance maybe you could go to a site online or something and choose from the available options for a week.

  29. We have “quiet floors” in my dorm, well it used to be floors, now it’s one floor. For the Honors students.

    And they don’t enforce it well enough – when my pain is at 9.99999 people walk by my door! /pain exaggeration

    In all reality, “quiet” anything is worthless without enforcement. I’ve lived on “quiet” floors all 3 years, and so much random screaming. At night. Bah. While, I, worried they would enforce the rules posted everywhere, actually tested the volume level on my TV by going in the hallway to make sure the whole floor or anyone passing by didn’t have to suffer.

  30. From when I was in college: privacy. I have a moderate to severe mental illness. I needed accommodation while I was in college because I was failing a lot of my subjects, and needed not to be kicked out of residence for that (this is Australian halls of residence, not an American style college.) I got my accommodation, but the dean of the college decided that if she was allowing me to stay on the basis that I was getting treatment for my illness, then she needed to see evidence of progress. So she brought me into her office for an interview ever week and interrogated me about therapy. It was one of the most offensive things that ever happened to me.

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