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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Rolling Around the World for Change

27 year-old Zach Anner, winner of Oprah’s reality competition “Your OWN Show” showcases his abilities on his new show “Rolling Around the World with Zach Anner” (premiering on December 12). In season one, Zach travels from coast to coast in the United States, stopping in popular cities to rock-climb, bake, dance, surf, sail, and ski. Oh, and did we mention that Zach has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair?

“Rolling Around…” follows a very funny, positive, and authentic young man traveling the world and having an amazing adventure. Zach wanted to challenge himself and not be challenged by his disability. “I am so many things before I am a person in a wheelchair. Get to know the person. The chair is incidental.” This young man is following his dream and he hopes to give a voice to a population who really hasn’t had one.

Over the years, the media has slowly begun to give voices to underrepresented populations or minorities. Zach is helping us to take another step towards inclusion by bringing an on-air presence for people with disabilities. Zach Anner is about to embark on a journey centered on the adventures and not the barriers. We hope that he will empower and inspire persons with disabilities to push themselves to try the “impossible,” because this man has proven that he is capable of anything.

We are always excited to hear about exceptional people like Zach and we cannot wait to follow him on this adventure. We believe that abilities can far outweigh any disability one might have, and Zach really embodies this idea.

“No obstacle is too big. No mountain is too tall. No volcano is too hot. No Atlantis is too underwater or fictional” (Zach Anner).

What will your adventure be?

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