Students voice support, hope for improvement in disability accommodations
Junior Aaron Pang originally wanted to live in Millbrook this year. He and his prospective suitemates were looking to find an arrangement with a common room, which much housing on the north side of campus doesn’t offer.
But Pang, who is disabled and cannot walk long distances, was placed in Village House because it was closer to the dining location on the North Side than Millbrook. Still, he feels Washington University’s decision to place him in Village House was ultimately for the best.
“I thought that, with my disability, Round 0 meant that they’d give me the housing that I wanted. But Round 0, after going through the process I realized, is purely for the sake of accommodating my disability. Living in the Village House is more convenient for me to get food, which was the most important thing, even though [my suitemates and I] wanted to live in Millbrook,” Pang said.
Although many students have just begun to think about housing for next year, some rooms are already assigned to students participating in Round 0, which allows for special housing accommodations—though not all students who receive Round 0 housing have disabilities.
Housing accommodations are among the services that Washington University offers to students with disabilities. Students with permanent disabilities can reach out to the University before matriculating—Christine Street, assistant director of disability resources for Cornerstone, said—although the University can only make accommodations to meet students’ needs rather than their preferences.
But while students agree that the University seems to support students with permanent disabilities well, many feel there is still room for improvement when it comes to students who injure themselves during the semester.
“If the difficulty is known before students come [to the University], obviously [the Office of Residential Life] can accommodate them in the correct area, but when it’s something that happens when they’re already housed, that’s a huge issue, especially for freshmen,” junior Orma Ravindranath, president of the Washington University Disabilities Awareness Committee, said. “My freshman year, one of my friends broke her leg and she was in Ruby, and I remember very frequently having to help her…it was a struggle getting her up and down the stairs.”
Students with temporary injuries can reach out to ResLife to discuss their options for accommodation, Director of Housing Operations Tim Lempfert said, including moving from a traditional dorm to a modern dorm if necessary.
“By practice we maintain and hold at least a couple of medical rooms available in case of an emergency,” Lempfert said.
When students choose to move, Lempfert said ResLife hopes to accommodate those students as quickly as possible, though he could not provide a time frame for how long it might take to accommodate students.
Pang said he also found the University helpful when it came to non-housing-related accommodations.
“The school was super accommodating because in order to kind of make up for these long distances, they let me bring a golf cart onto campus…They were really helpful. I worked with them and they told me where I could park, where I couldn’t park, all the rules I had to follow,” Pang said. “I’m pretty lucky in the sense of how accommodating the school was. [With my golf cart] I can literally drive anywhere on campus.”
Cecilia Joy Perez, a junior who broke her back before the start of the fall semester, said she found the University extremely supportive when she returned to campus with limited mobility.
“I felt like I had such an amazing support network here [and] that if at some point I didn’t feel like it was going well, I’d have someone to reach out to. Honestly, it was one of my best semesters here,” Joy Perez said.
Joy Perez took two courses on the Danforth campus and another two through Semester Online to minimize travel across campus. When she did need to get around, she made use of the medical shuttle offered by Student Health Services, which can transport students with disabilities or injuries between campus buildings.
Not all students, though, have had fully positive experiences. Junior Courtenay Willcox, who lives offcampus, had trouble getting around when she was on crutches. Because she lived off campus, SHS could not offer her transportation, and she had to rely on friends to drive her to and from campus. On campus, the difficulties persisted.
“If I wanted to get to the library or something, I would have someone drop me off as close as possible,” Willcox said. “I ended up kind of avoiding the library.”
“I had a class in McDonnell and I had a class right before that in Umrath, so I’d just try to crutch as fast as possible there,” she added. “I was late for class a lot, but obviously my professors understood because they saw that I was on crutches.”
Ravindranath said that while the University may do well accommodating many students, she believes there is still room for improvement when it comes to accessibility.
“At the minimum, [campus buildings] should all have ramps and they should all have elevators,” Ravindranath said. “I realize they can’t just tear down all the traditionals right away, but then they need to find a low-cost alternative for those students to be able to live in accessible areas…I think that remodeling the traditionals needs to be a priority, and I think that accessibility needs to be a priority in that model.”
Pang suggested that the University create a golf cart service to help students with temporary injuries navigate campus beyond the medical shuttle that SHS currently provides.
“I do see a lot of kids, especially athletes when they injure themselves…on crutches and it looks really inconvenient,” Pang said. “For UC Berkeley, there is a golf cart service where there is just a person hired to truck kids who are injured or athletes around from class to class. I think that would be in my opinion the next step.”