UWRF needs more administrative effort to support students with disabilities
November 11, 2022
Recently, concern around students with physical disabilities and service dogs has led to more discussion of accessibility issues on campus. With winter right around the corner, these issues are more relevant than ever as the weather makes campus more difficult to navigate.
UWRF has one main stop for students with disabilities: the Disability Resource Center. Kaye Anderson, a Disability Resource Center peer mentor, said the most common use of the center is for extended test-taking time. The Disability Resource Center can also connect students with housing and professors to get the accommodation they need.
More recently, UWRF has experienced an increase in students with emotional support animals (ESAs) and service dogs around campus. The Disability Resource Center connects these students to Residence Life to get the accommodations that they need. Students with service dogs have also noticed many issues regarding the placement of wheelchair buttons next to fire alarms. Service dogs will have to jump up to touch these buttons. With the buttons next to fire alarms, there is an increased risk for the dog to accidentally set off the alarms. This increase of animals around campus has also prompted the university to work on a new policy centered around accessibility and information.
The university also has a “Report It” page that has many uses around campus. Students with disabilities can use this page to report any instance of unfair or discriminatory behavior by students, professors, and university staff.
Students at UWRF brought DREAM to campus as part of an initiative to bring awareness about the needs of students with disabilities. DREAM stands for disability, rights, education, activism, and mentorship. This is a student-run organization with around 25 members, according to club co-president Kathryn Kinneberg.
DREAM puts on many events centered around education, such as hosting speakers or discussing winter prep in the style of Jeopardy. DREAM has also done what they call an “ability walk” around campus. Members walked through four academic buildings around campus and wrote down everything that was not ADA-compliant. Some of the most common issues were the lack of braille on placards in front of rooms on campus, bathroom stalls not being wide enough to fit a wheelchair, bathrooms having two doors to enter which could lead to students in wheelchairs being stuck between them with no way out, and elevators being too tight to house mobility devices without the device getting damaged.
When asked what the campus is doing well, Kinneberg said that the facilities management does a great job at keeping the wheelchair push buttons active at all times around campus. Kinneberg also spoke on what the university could improve, saying, “the university needs more universal design, which means it's fit for all people.” Kinneberg gave some examples like having more curb cutouts and more cemented paths. As for the results of the DREAM ability walk, the students took their findings to the Disability Advisory Committee around May 2022. Kinneberg said she has not noticed any changes around campus since.
From the Student Voice’s own observations, the university has fallen short of meeting student needs around campus. Most of the things that Kinneberg mentioned that can be improved are small, inexpensive changes that, if implemented, could drastically enhance disabled students' everyday life. Making campus more accessible would be beneficial for everyone. Currently, it seems the university is focused on recruitment when they should also be investing in already-existing buildings on campus to show the student body that they are listening to their feedback.
The Student Voice recognizes that the student body has the power to help make changes on campus and around the community. We hope the university will make these small changes around campus and take into account more universal and accessible design in upcoming projects while continuing to further educate themselves when making new policies.