notaccessibleIn the disability service office I am working in, we recently moved offices.  The new office is newer, has more space than the old one, and is generally more workable.

There’s one problem, though, and it isn’t a small one…

The building is NOT handicap accessible.

This, I think, really highlights a symptom of a much bigger problem.

In my quest to make a change in higher education to better support chronically ill students, I’ve come to realize that if we can’t deal with the students who require the same accommodations term after term, or who require physical access on campus, we can’t expect to be able to help students who have complicated medical conditions and ever-changing needs for help and support.

That might sound basic, but it’s true.

If disability service offices cannot meet the needs of those we think of as being “traditionally” disabled, there really, truly is no way that we can help others, or anyone at all really.

The fact that a disability service office is not handicap accessible flies in the face of the reason that disability offices were created in the first place.

The Americans with Disabilities Act made it law that students who weren’t traditional, who were never able to make it on the ground floor, not only got in, but were able to be successful.

But culture doesn’t match perception.

Many students are still unable to enter the building.

Many people might think that if a school has a disability office, they are doing all they need to do to meet the needs of students.  But the reality is that, that is not what’s happening.

Many schools skate by with providing the minimal amount of accommodations so that they won’t face a lawsuit, but do little else.  Their role is symbolic rather than real.

And having a campus that is inaccessible in any way, falls short of the mark.  The message that sends to students is that they are not welcome or don’t deserve full inclusion.

And while this may lead them to picking a campus that physically and academically meets their needs, the fact that these discussions even need to be had should be a call to action.  But sometimes those calls fall on deaf ears.

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse.  But this is, unbelievably, NOT the first time that I’ve experienced a disability office on a college campus that isn’t accessible.

Those who might listen are not worried as much about cost, as they are about access for all.

And the bottom line is that universal design helps us all.  It improves society by making things more accessible to everyone.

And that’s really what we need.  Otherwise, disabled students will continue to find, not only that they can’t get in on the ground floor, but that they can’t even open the door.