Accessibility awareness for all students

By on February 3, 2015
info handicapped

Quinnipiac University is known locally and nationally for its aesthetically outstanding campus. The lush, green Quad is surrounded by beautiful buildings of brick and glass, and there is no shortage of Instagram-worthy shots between the three campuses. However, one of the most unique characteristics of the Quinnipiac campus is also a daily obstacle for a number of students.

Consider the fact that one campus is built on top of a mountain. While York Hill is an amazing and certainly a unique living experience, some students say it creates a number of hazards. The conditions for driving are dangerous in the snow, uphill walking is abundant and the only way to access the campus is by driving or taking the shuttle.

Consider this information as an able-bodied student, and then imagine for a second what this experience is like for students in wheelchairs, scooters or on crutches. Not only are these routine moments an annoyance, but they become dangerous and sometimes nearly impossible for students who have disabilities.

Aside from York Hill, the Mount Carmel campus is equipped with its own obstacles. There are a limited number of housing options for students with long-term disabilities. Nearly all residence halls have a few accessible rooms, however, the routes to get to these rooms are not always the most disability friendly. One of the Mount Carmel residence hall buildings is literally named Hill, which proves to be an issue on its own.

To most Quinnipiac students, access to education in terms of the built environment is a given. The built environment is composed of the elements that physically create the environment such as buildings, ramps, and sidewalks, which is something most people do not have to think about. Each morning, able-bodied students can wake up and know that they can walk to class or to the cafe with friends without any problem.

Quinnipiac has the proper number of parking spots, ramps where necessary and appropriate housing options. However, there are still areas where accessibility could be improved. For example, somebody in a wheelchair would not be able to pass through the turnstiles at the main entrance to the dining hall on the Mount Carmel campus, though it is an easy entry for able-bodied people.

Sophomore biomedical sciences major Kaitlyn DeBardelaben agrees that these issues typically go unnoticed for students who have not faced these physical and societal barriers firsthand.

“For someone without a physical disability, I can’t say I’ve learned or understood the handicap accessibility guidelines purely because they have never affected me,” DeBardelaben said.

But here is why every single student at Quinnipiac should care about this issue: Disability is one of the largest minority groups in America with roughly 12% of the population having some type of physical disability, according to the Council for Disability Awareness.

Disability is also one of the only minorities that an individual can come into at any point in their life. When dealing with minorities like race, ethnicity and social class, people are typically born into their specific group.

However, even if you are not born with a disability, both long-term and short-term disabilities can be acquired via accident, aging or illness. One statistic for college students to consider is the fact that just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire. This means that of the roughly 6,500 undergraduate students at Quinnipiac University, 1,650 students will find themselves facing some form of disability in their lifetime. This alone should be cause for concern on the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities.

There exists laws in place under the Americans with Disabilities Act which was passed in 1990. The ADA was created to eliminate the discrimination of people with disabilities, namely in areas of employment, housing, and education, and works to improve equality in society. However, because Quinn ipiac is a private university, they are only required to meet the minimum guidelines for accessibility.

This is only partially a reflection of the University. It speaks more adequately to society’s naturally ableist views, or the favoring of able-bodied people. Until buildings are made where every doorway is wide enough and every sink is low enough, accessibility exists as an abstract idea. This is what calls for the opening of a dialogue among college students about the idea of accessibility.

“It would be beneficial to learn about accessibility so that able-bodied people can improve daily routines for those with disabilities,” DeBardelaben said.

Resident Assistant and graduate physical therapy student Lindzy Hamel also spoke to the benefits of both awareness and accommodation on campus.

“Individuals who require adaptive equipment such as walkers, wheelchairs and scooters seem to have a difficult time navigating campus. There are so many areas that could use some updating for better accessibility. Easy changes like ramps, hand rails and more parking spots could benefit so many students and visitors to our school,” Hamel said.

Not only would these changes make current students more comfortable, but proactivity could attract students with disabilities in the future, which could help achieve some of the diversity that Quinnipiac is constantly seeking.

“The majority of our campuses are made up of able-bodied students who don’t notice opportunities to make things better for those with disabilities. Not only would changes benefit the student population now, but it would also make the school more appealing for future students,” Hamel said.

It is clear that there is certainly room for adjustment at Quinnipiac University not only in terms of physical changes, but perhaps in the conversation about disability and accessibility between students on campus.

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