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How I Fought for My Accommodations in College

July 25, 2019
Community Voices
A young, brown man sits in his wheelchair. He is wearing a grey sweater with a neutral expression.

My transition to college has been a difficult one and mostly because I was unable to get critical accommodations in a timely manner. I’m calling for university staff and administrators, even those who do not work in their school’s accessibility offices, to bring greater attention, compassion, and advocacy to their students with disabilities.

I want to share one of my experiences to illustrate this outrageous problem. I needed an accessible restroom. Initially, my classes were timed in a way that I thought I would not need the restroom on campus. However, that wasn’t realistic at all. One day, I went to the nearest “accessible” restroom. There were two sinks and two urinals. The sink was tall and the other was short, as well as for the urinals. There was only one stall that had enough room for my chair, but I mainly needed an electrically-powered table. I immediately went to the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) to inquire, but I was told to schedule a meeting with the director to discuss the issue. I had no choice but to call my father to take me home, so I could use the restroom. I still had to return to campus for class two hours later.

During our meeting, I showed the OSD director the restroom that I attempted to use and I was told shortly after that an order was being put in to give me my own key and table. When I asked for periodic updates, I learned that I wouldn’t have access to these accommodations until the end of the school year. I was so disappointed and had many painful experiences. My dad had to take me home urgently throughout the semester. I experienced so much anxiety around it and I checked in on the status of the restroom every week. In May, the bed was finally built into that restroom, but not for private use. It was public to other students. I was fine with that.

Accommodation requests sometimes work out. For example, my class building was changed, which greatly reduced my stress crossing a hazardous street with cracks and potholes that could cause me to fall out of my chair. But without the accessible restroom, I endured immense pain and discomfort, which negatively impacted my concentration. However, I persevered and advocated for myself. I still managed to become eligible for my school’s Honors program. I’m also proud that the accommodations I advocated for will help future disabled freshmen or transfer students.

I only ask that university administrators work harder and think bigger about creating accessible campuses. I would recommend listening regularly to your students because every disability and every need is different.