Amidst the conversations about making USD a more diverse and inclusive campus, students with mobility issues have largely escaped attention.
Many schools and universities today, including USD, educate their students about the importance of tolerance. From a very young age, we are taught not to discriminate against individuals who have disabilities, and to be inclusive, for instance. We are taught to be aware of the differences in everybody around us.
The lack of focus on accessibility is possibly due to the relatively low percentages of people declaring or disclosing a disability.
Accessibility is something that begins with each individual, with recognition of and desire to eliminate existing attitudinal and physical barriers and to replace them with attitudes of welcome and acceptance. This is especially important in universities.
When universities do not provide adequate wheelchair access, it is especially disappointing.
Luckily for students here at USD, the university complies with standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects individuals with medical conditions – mental and physical, temporary and chronic, severe and mild – against discrimination. Most commonly, the university assists students who have mobility issues and use a wheelchair, cane, or walker.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, schools that receive federal funding are not only prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, but are also required to provide equal academic opportunities to their students and reasonable accommodations for disabilities. This, unfortunately, does not require that all buildings on campus be accessible to people with disabilities.
When doors are not wide enough, there are limited ramps, any elevators are out of order, or the buttons for the elevators don’t work, it makes it even more difficult for those with any disability to get around.
If access for the students who need it is not available, they will face the same set of challenges nearly every day. If they are facing these challenges along with the normal daily stresses of classes and other extracurricular activities, it isn’t hard to believe that these factors may hinder the college experience for people with disabilities.
Director of disability services, Ernetta Fox, stated that Disability Services here at USD will work with individual students to have a class or meeting moved to an accessible location.
Fox continued on to say that if students need to meet with professors whose offices are at inaccessible locations or have class in inaccessible locations, the class is moved and arrangements are made with professors.
These arrangements allow for a better and more equal learning experience for students with disabilities.
While USD does a great job at making accommodations for students that need them, there is, of course, always room for improvement.
Right now, there are still buildings on campus that are not fully accessible and have limited accommodations for students, including East Hall and Dakota Hall. This is something that the university is currently working on as the money becomes available to them.
USD’s efforts and desire to make the campus inclusive for all is something that should not be taken for granted.