Accommodation is often a point of concern for parents sending their young adults off to college for the first time. Looking after them at home as the homeowner is one thing. But finding how to accommodate them on campus is another. Here is one perspective on student accommodation on campus.
How Colleges Accommodate Student Diversity On Campus
In student admission brochures, diversity is often depicted by a group of students with different skin colours and ethnic backgrounds. They usually pose with smiles alongside the logo or name of the college in the background. Aside from this image, schools also conduct diversity awareness campaigns, exchange student programs, and scholarships for ‘minority populations’.
All this activity emphasizes their all-inclusive initiatives. In these, diversity is celebrated as a difference. The difference can be ethnicity, origin, age, and gender of individuals—internal diversity factors that people all have.
While this definition and the awareness of such has made an impact in promoting respect and opportunity for all students, the discussion now goes beyond skin colour, language, and ethnic background to include both the physical and mental abilities of a person.
Thus, an updated version of diversity now encompasses the range of people’s infinite and unique attributes. It can also include their abilities, meaning all that an individual can do, acquire, and perform. However, it can also be the lack of such abilities that makes a person different. As such, physical, mental, and emotional impairments of these can mean that disability is also a vital aspect of diversity.
Disability as Diversity
Diversity is the appreciation of all individual differences, disability included. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a disability as a body or mind condition or impairment that makes it challenging for an individual to perform particular activities and impedes interaction with others. Disabilities can cover a wide range of visible limitations (visual, auditory, or mobility) or emotional, psychological, as well as a combination of physical, sensory, and cognitive aspects.
In colleges and universities, a disability often requires modifications in the campus policies. This will ensure compliance with existing laws. Moreover, it will safeguard students who have disabilities against discrimination. Revisions include improvements to make facilities more accessible for those with physical impairments.
The use of specialized tools and services also allow differently-abled students to participate in courses and curriculums.
Apart from their inclusion in academic activities and programs, colleges and universities also take into consideration their emotional and mental health as vital components to holistic education. Academics and student well-being must also be of equal importance.
Campus Diversity Initiatives
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and The Rehabilitation Act serve as anchors for college and university programs regarding young people with disabilities (PWD). The act states that accommodations and service animals should be provided for impaired students. In addition appropriate services need to be provided to help them fulfil school requirements.
However, recent discourses highlight that students with disabilities expect colleges and universities to be more than understanding of their needs and extend additional amenities besides being pet-friendly campuses for them to embrace disability as part of their identity.
As an initial response, colleges and universities advocate the inclusion of disability under diversity rather than a ‘technical problem’ that can be remedied with suitable accommodations.
Higher education campuses strive to promote the awareness of faculty and students regarding the proper perspective regarding disability. At the same time, colleges and universities endeavor to provide quality education for PWDs and help forge a positive outlook regarding their conditions.
Colleges and universities have long been prepared to assist student PWDs. They do this through compliance with existing laws and regulations for disabled persons. Student housing and accommodations have been adjusted to conform and suit the needs of students and their various disabilities, which include the following:
- Convenient access to school buildings, residences, and facilities through the installation of ramps, handrails, and other structural modifications to conform to the required ADA specifications.
- Modifying classroom setups or tasks to encourage impaired students to participate. These can include preferred seating arrangements, taking short breaks between lectures, or providing ample time to get to classrooms. Curriculums and classes can have flexible deadlines for PWD students or provide testing locations that are free from disturbances. Students may also request sign language interpreters and readers or use alternative test formats.
- Updating policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate students, including the use of service animals, alert dogs, emotional service animals. Encouraging students with mental and emotional issues to take part in counseling and therapy sessions.
- Make assistive technology readily available to help students with different abilities communicate effectively.
- Adjust college programs, services, and activities so PWDs can participate.
Student accommodations are the basic provisions that colleges and universities can provide, especially to those who have physical limitations. Apart from this, campuses have also adopted several programs that cater to emotional and mental disabilities.
How to accommodate Service Animals
A service animal is a trained dog that assists a student in the performance of a task. This can include acting as a guide for the blind, alert the hearing impaired of imminent danger, or opening doors and access points for those with physical handicaps. Under the ADA, Service Animals can accompany disabled persons in all locations. Minimal charges for housing are also specified.
Apart from service animals, emotional support animals (ESAs) can also serve as companions to comfort and relieve anxiety in students with mental and emotional issues. Family pets serve as ideal candidates for an ESA as these pets offer students the comfort of home and share strong familial bonds with their owners.
These can range from dog and cats as furry friends, feathered buddies like birds or ducks, or scaly allies in the likes of reptiles or anything in between that serve as companions to students throughout their college life. These pets offer benefits in promoting mental health and compel students to engage in physical activities such as dog walking or exercise.
What’s the difference between ESAs and SAs
There are several distinctions between service animals and ESAs. The latter requires an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional certifying that the pet serves to alleviate the student’s mental or emotional illness conditions, while the former requires specialized training.
Students with Service Animals can take them to classes or anywhere else on campus. However, emotional support animals are confined to the rooms and subject to restrictions set forth by the college’s ESA policy.
Several colleges and universities across the US also adopt pet-friendly programs such as foster programs and animal therapy. They help to accommodate some students on campus. Foster programs allow students to partner with local shelters in providing care for animals. These provide comfort and companionship akin to service animals and ESAs.
The only difference is that students participating in animal foster programs are merely temporary caretakers. Aside from the calming effect and assurance, having pets and companions also train students to become responsible adults.
Animal therapy helps students cope with stressful situations without having to care for the animals themselves. This initiative could become part of a university’s counselling program or included in animal awareness initiatives.
Apart from service animals and ESAs, institutions also employ technologies to assist students in doing their classwork and other tasks. Assistive technologies can begin as early as the admissions phase and extend until the end of the semester, or even until graduation.
Such assistive technologies include short-listing on courses, using sign language, reading and interpretation. Hearing aids and amplification devices are also increasingly widely available. Other examples include lunch menus printed in Braille. Speech-to-text software or any other note-taking services are easily available for classes.
Offering course handouts in electronic formats or more readable font-size texts is becoming standard procedure. The onus is on the college to make the examination venues accessible. Tailoring a programme of study through course substitutions can make courses more relevant and practical.
The admissions process if vital to discuss the use of assistive technologies. College counsellors will provide all necessary resources. The university website, student handbooks, and catalogues are the places to look for the detailed information.
A dedicated desk for students with disabilities is common in colleges and universities, and they often handle the requests for assistive technologies. However, concerned students should consult with their colleges directly to check the availability of these materials and services.
More Than Compliance
Modifications in school facilities, course modifications, and use of service and ESAs are preliminary adjustments to accommodate students with disabilities. These make going around campus and attending classes more convenient while counselling programs can address the immediate mental and emotional challenges that PWD students face.
Training faculty and university staff to be more understanding of disability is also a lofty goal for colleges and universities. Professors need early notice of their student’s disability. This early notice will help them make adjustments, such as modifying class requirements.
Sometimes it will be necessary to move class and examination venues to a more accessible location, or extending deadlines. University staff must also ensure the availability of assistive technologies and even extend help as needed.
While these superficial responses are commendable, there is a clamour to transcend assistive methods to empower students in embracing their disability.
Disability as an Identity
In understanding disability as diversity, it’s relevant to understand how disability is a difference entirely on its own. A recent article states that disability is experienced differently according to the various impairments and personal histories.
These variances overlap with other identities and experiences. Thus, it’s possible to be Asian and be underrepresented in schools and activities while living with a congenital disability that limits physical activity. Disability intersects with other forms of diversity, providing a unique experience to an individual.
How to accommodate a disability
To gain a deeper understanding of diversity, colleges and universities must acknowledge the full spectrum of diversities. It is in recognizing these qualities that make the discourse on ‘disability as diversity’ more encompassing.
The prevailing view of disability in higher education is ‘medical.’ It is viewed as medical in the sense that impairments can be accommodated by suitable adjustments. The adjustments can be applied in the course curriculum or the use of service animals and assistive technologies.
This perspective compels institutions to uphold laws and regulations. However, it also takes a concerted effort to truly make PWD students feel valued and appreciated. By their inclusion their contribution becomes evident at the very least through the discourse on diversity.
More than physical ways to accommodate a disability
Indeed, students demand more than access ramps in the campus. They need to feel that they’re not being accommodated for the sake of compliance, rather to be accepted as part of the student body. Their voices are essential in framing the campus diversity initiative. Diversity must embrace disability not just as a defect in a person but rather serve to accept the individual.
To pay more than lip service to the issue, diversity advocates must find meaningful ways to integrate students. Students with disabilities especially to integration into the college community. Awareness campaigns can make everyone understand that physical, mental, and emotional challenges exist.
They must inform the college and its community that disability doesn’t diminish a person’s worth. Rather it enriches a person and those around them. Training educators and staff to be more accommodating can go a long way for students with disabilities. Constant dialogues with PWDs can educate others to be more understanding and accepting of them as individuals and as a group. It’s a step towards helping accommodate a diverse population.
Diversity is the celebration of the unique characteristics of an individual or their absence, as in the case of disability. Disability goes beyond physical limitations as it also recognizes emotional and mental issues as disabilities. A relatively new dimension of diversity, disability in higher education is seen as a medical condition and a technical issue. It is believed that the disability can be addressed using suitable spaces or assistive services and technologies.
The efforts of various higher education institutions to accommodate all students are commendable. They implement the necessary adjustments in facilities, technologies, and campus policies to ensure the active involvement of students with disabilities.
However, disability is not just a circumstance as it’s part of a person’s identity that merits more than assistance. How to accommodate any disability takes preparation. Disability can occur simultaneously with other diversity markers that give individuals a distinctive experience. This intersection of identities is vital in understanding disability as diversity.
Disability accounts for the unique experiences of an individual regarding diversity. While PWD students embrace disability as part of their unique identity, they also yearn for acceptance. What is more they also want opportunities to rise above challenges.
This situates campuses as pivotal areas for transformation in guiding students with disabilities to create resilient perspectives. Colleges and universities also serve as collaborative centers in fostering an understanding that disability is indeed diversity.
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