I have been a student leader with Housing and Residential Education for almost two years now, and it wasn’t until I enrolled in COMM 3490: Disability and Communication that I started to think about how students with disabilities access their on-campus housing.
In my position as a student manager for the HRE central office, I have worked with various students with different needs. As someone who works on the occupancy side of housing, I help place students in rooms that will accommodate their needs.
I looked into the process of receiving a disability accommodation on campus and it is somewhat of a lengthy and time-consuming one. For many disabilities, students are required to provide documentation of diagnosis, medications, treatment plans, prognosis and more. Securing this paperwork requires adequate access to healthcare, which can be a struggle for students. Students also need to schedule both an initial intake appointment, wait to have their documentation reviewed and then have a follow-up meeting. Once all of this is complete, then the student will need to wait until Christopher Breedon, the senior occupancy coordinator at HRE, reaches out to them to arrange their room placement.
I went directly to Breedon to critically analyze the process of obtaining an ADA space in on-campus housing. My goal was to bring attention to the process of obtaining disability accommodations for on-campus housing so that current and future students are familiar with the process.
Breedon works directly with students with disabilities and the Center for Disability and Access to provide accessible spaces in on-campus housing. I asked him to give me some insight into the process of getting accommodations for housing.
“As far as our office goes, it’s a fairly quick process since we keep those rooms on hold. We keep the rooms that are most common on hold and keep them reserved ahead of time,” Breedon said.
When a student needs accommodation for their on-campus housing, they first need to get in contact with the Center for Disability and Access. Then, the CDA reaches out to Breedon to let him know what kind of housing accommodation the student needs. Finally, Breedon matches the student to one of the spaces specifically set aside for students with disabilities. Typically, those rooms are single rooms, sometimes with a private bathroom. Some of the rooms have wider doors and handrails in the bathrooms.
“No two students are going to need the same thing, so it’s difficult to try to plan for that in advance. We do try our best to fit each student with what they need, though,” Breedon said.
While room placement is relatively quick and smooth, there are underlying problems. I spoke to Sam Dalton, the vice president of the Residence Hall Association, an Outreach Housing ambassador and previous resident advisor.
“From a programming lens, it [disability access] comes up but most people don’t have expertise in it. Most of my experience is from my own lived experience. I’ve advocated for myself, but it’s hard to know what others need. They have good intentions, but they don’t have the knowledge,” Dalton said.
Overall, from my direct experiences in housing, my conversations with Dalton and Breedon and my research into the process of getting a disability accommodation, it is difficult to make one sweeping conclusion regarding students with disabilities and their access to on-campus housing. However, it seems as though good intentions are there, no process is perfect. Coming from a disability justice lens, I believe Dalton said it best during our interview: “The way accommodations are addressed isn’t proactive, it’s reactive.”
— Amanda MacKay, University of Utah student