How Accessible is the College Campus?

Savaria wheelchair lift at McMaster University

Imagine going to school only to be limited by building access. How might a lecture be different for you as a person with a disability?

Statistics show that about 4.4 million Canadians and 49.7 million Americans identified themselves as a person with a disability. For the potential students in that group, accessibility could be a major factor in choosing a post-secondary school.

A good but fairly basic menu of services and accommodations offered by today’s colleges and universities might include accessible classrooms and furniture, adaptive equipment, disability resource office, testing and curriculum modifications, mobility assistance, notetakers, paratransit service, parking accommodations, priority or online registration, and referrals for personal assistance services. A great example of an accessible school is University of Toronto, offering all of the above as well as a Wheelchair Access Fund Committee that researches, proposes, and oversees wheelchair accessibility projects across the three campuses.

After researching accessibility provisions in Canadian and American post-secondary institutions, here are some unique programs being offered:

University of Illinois is a school of firsts. They were the first school to offer post-secondary education for persons with disabilities. They were the first to create an independent living centre for those dependent on personal care, as well as a formal overseas program for students with disabilities. They were also the first school with accessible buses and wheelchair basketball teams for both men and women. This school is paving the way for persons with disabilities and can act as a model for other institutions looking to expand their services.

Another interesting school is University of California, Berkeley. The university’s Disabled Students’ Residence Program is nationally recognized due to its overwhelming focus on student empowerment, with a two-semester training period designed for freshman and transfer students that teaches and facilitates independent living.

Lastly, University of British Columbia is a school that offers a strong combination of basics, as well as unique programs and events on the ground. Their Access and Diversity blog features articles as well as programs such as the “Making Invisible Visible” poster campaign to raise awareness about disability; The Positive Graffiti Project to enforce positive thinking; and Think Equity, a publication on social issues featuring art, poetry, stories, etc.

Accessibility is about inclusion. It is about planning and being prepared. Campus policy should go beyond accommodating students when they arrive. Every student wants to have an amazing experience – they just need the opportunity to do so.

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