July is Disability Pride Month, and it is a great opportunity to honor people in the disability community and celebrate those with disabilities. Unfortunately, many college students with disabilities face daily challenges because of lack of accommodations on their campus. Here are things colleges should consider to make their campus more accessible.
Colleges should approach accessibility not as just a legal checkmark, but as a serious diversity initiative.
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), significant strides have been made to accommodate students with disabilities at colleges and universities, however many disability advocates say the law doesn’t go far enough.
“Under the ADA, public and private colleges and universities must provide equal access to postsecondary education for students with disabilities, but there is room for interpretation. If an institution can prove that making the accommodations and modifications would constitute an undue financial or administrative burden, the alterations aren’t required.” (Source)
Schools often will follow the letter of the law, but do not go beyond compliance and the bare minimum in making the campus an accessible and inclusive space for all students. Colleges and universities need to prioritize accessibility and follow the spirit of the law, going above and beyond to make students with disabilities feel welcomed and wanted. There needs to be true, equitable access to education because everyone deserves the same opportunity to succeed.
Colleges should move beyond just compliance because the law isn’t always enough.
Even if colleges provide elevator access, this is of no good to students with disabilities if the elevators are often out of order or if access to the elevator is blocked. The college is technically following the law by having an elevator but maintaining and providing ample access to the elevator would go beyond compliance.
A college may provide wheelchair accessible seating in classrooms, but it is often at the very back of the room which makes students who also have hearing impairments face undo challenge.
Signs around campus may have braille for see-impaired students but this often only extends to room numbers instead of room names, requiring students to memorize room numbers.
Disabled students may have dorm rooms that are accessible for themselves but feel excluded when they are unable to visit any other student on campus living in a non-accessible dorm room. This damages the student’s sense of belonging and acceptance on campus.
A university may provide interpreters, note-takers, and other learning accommodations but these accommodations are not always good quality or widely available to students.
Even small efforts to make a more inclusive environment for students with disabilities can make a big difference.
The focus of accessibility should be more than just helping students “get by”, and more on making them feel included and welcomed. Administrations can make great progress by speaking to students with disabilities and getting their input on how the school can be more inclusive. Offering a student group for people with disabilities can allow for space for advocation and change where needed. Students who themselves have disabilities are far more likely to know and understand the challenges their disabled peers are facing. This also communicates that the university cares for and respects the opinion of those who are disabled and strives to make necessary changes.
What has your college or university done to increase accessibility? Share in the comments!