For students with special needs, accommodations such as ramps, disability parking spots and specially designed dorm rooms are not only quality of life improvements, they are vital to securing an education. However, these accommodations may not always be available. At the University of Indianapolis, Executive Director for Student Development Debbie Spinney is in charge of ensuring that students who have special needs are able to study and experience campus life as any other student would. According to Spinney, the largest challenge is knowing what students need. She said that the majority of the time, issues of accessibility are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Spinney said there were deaf students on campus over the summer who required the university hire interpreters for them. She said doorways and other entrances are something she has to ensure are up to the standards for those who need larger entryways to accommodate disabilities or other issues and has attempted putting in more accessible doorways.
“Over the years, we have tried to put in automatic doors. Those are not required by law,” Spinney said. “So what’s accessible is that the door opening is wide enough for a wheelchair. An automatic door, believe it or not, is not by law required. So we’ve tried to put an automatic door in every building that has a ramp to get to it.”
However, according to sophomore social work major Naiza Limon, much more can be done on campus for those with disabilities. Limon said that she suffers from fibromyalgia, which causes constant pain in her body. She said that because of this, she drives everywhere on campus, because of how tiring it can be to walk to her classes. Limon said she uses the disability parking spots on campus as a result, but recently a dumpster, trucks and cones were blocking all the disability parking spots but one in lot 14, near the Schwitzer Student Center. She said this forced her to park farther away in the parking lot, which potentially puts her at risk from her fibromyalgia. Limon said she saw other cars with disability placards parked far away from the blocked spots.
“It wasn’t just a me thing. It just angers me because you could have put that anywhere else, but yet they chose to take up those spots that I need and the other students need and other people need in general,” Limon said. “But they don’t think about that, because when people think about college, they don’t think about disabled students. They don’t think about
disabled people. They think that everybody is fine and healthy and can do the walk and whatever, and it doesn’t matter, but it’s not like that.”
According to Spinney, issues such as the dumpsters blocking parking spots are going to happen at the university, and they have to be able to provide a disability spot somewhere else on campus.
“That happens when you go to the grocery store; it happens everywhere. The important part, and what we have to be able to provide, is [a] handicap spot somewhere,” Spinney said. “And so I know that there was a truck parked out behind here in Schwitzer. And they were there unloading for half a day. And unfortunately there’s not much we can do, except tell them you can park elsewhere in that lot or around the corner.”
Another aspect of campus life that is harder for students with disabilities is living in the residence halls, according to Limon. She said she has struggled in the past with accommodations for living on campus. Limon said she has an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant room in East Hall this semester, but in past semesters she did not, which put her at risk of injury. ADA rooms are those with accommodations for students with disabilities, such as button-operated doors and showers specially designed for those who cannot stand.
“I didn’t last semester, which was very difficult, and I risked falling in the shower every time I took a shower, which was not fun,” Limon said. “And I had to talk to my RD [Residence Director] about what would I do if that happens? I don’t have a suitemate. I don’t have a roommate. This is my health and safety at risk.”
Limon said another issue on campus is that some buildings do not have ramps, which causes too much added stress on her body and can exacerbate her fibromyalgia, making the trip to her classes excruciatingly painful.
“So if I have a class in a building, and I use all of the strength and energy that I have to go up the stairs, because another method is not available, like an elevator, that means that in class, I’m in pain. All I can think about is the fact that I’m in pain. I can’t concentrate, and it could wipe me out for the rest of the day,” Limon said. “If I do one wrong thing to my body, I could like just not be able to use my arm for the rest of the day, or a week or however long.”
Spinney said that students with disabilities, or students concerned about accessibility on campus, should reach out to her and the university at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Facilities Management.