By Angeline Carbajal
1. The University of Arizona’s Disability Resource Center works with its Residence Life to make dorms more accessible.
2. All dorms have wheelchair accessible rooms.
3. The DRC processes approximately 50 requests each academic year.
4. Students who need a housing accommodation fill out an online Accommodation Request Form and work with a DRC Access Consultant.
One of the many aspects of the college learning experience is dorm living. From the realities of sharing a bathroom to the joys of meeting new people, dorm life makes college more interesting. Though exciting, learning to live in a dorm presents challenges. Students with disabilities may experience additional barriers.
The University of Arizona is committed to access in all aspects of campus life, including UA’s housing unit Residence Life, and works to proactively get in front of disability-related barriers before they impact a student’s experience.
“We like to remove barriers permanently, so working extensively with departments like Resident Life is important,” said Diedre Lamb, assistant director at the University of Arizona Disability Resource Center. “Our overall goal is for anyone with a disability; a student, staff member or visitor, to have the same experience as those without a disability.”
With leadership from the DRC, Residence Life is always exploring creative ways to create access in all dorm rooms. One way is having DRC staff periodically evaluate dorm spaces for access. DRC staff recently evaluated graduate housing and found the laundry facilities were not easily accessible for blind students. Residence Life is currently working on updating the facility.
“In my work with Residence Life I have never heard them say no, but rather they say let’s see what’s possible,” said Lamb.
Additionally, Residence Life takes all residents’ safety into account, including their non-human residents. If a student has a service animal or assistance animal, Residence Life makes note of the animal’s name and the room where it lives to ensure its safety in an emergency situation if the student is not present to get the animal out of the building.
Choice is a Top Priority
UA Residence Life allows for all students to have a choice in where they live; so long as they meet all deadlines and fees. There are 23 halls for students to choose from with varying price points. A student with a disability is not limited to one dorm.
“For instance, wheelchair accessible rooms are available throughout the dorms so that all students are able to have a choice to live in whatever hall they like best,” said Lamb.
Gender-neutral wings are currently being explored and implemented in dorm halls to avoid situations where students are singled out.
The UA Process For Requesting Housing Accommodations
Residence Life and the Disability Resource Center have tried to create a seamless process for students with disabilities to request a housing accommodation. The disabled student is expected to follow Residence Life’s online application process and meet all deadlines and fees to guarantee a room. The disabled student must also complete the DRC’s online Accommodation Request Form if they are interested in exploring a housing accommodation.
The student will work with a DRC Access Consultant through an interactive process to explore a housing accommodation. The Access Consultant will determine if the request is reasonable based on numerous factors, including a thorough conversation or multiple conversations with the student.
The DRC defines a reasonable accommodation as an accommodation that ensures equal access in the student’s environment, but does not impose an undue hardship upon the UA, require a fundamental alteration of a program or compromise academic integrity.
The DRC will notify Residence Life of an accommodation to implement if the request from the student is found reasonable. The DRC processes approximately 50 housing requests each academic year from students with a variety of disabilities, including psychological and cognitive disabilities.
“For example, a student might need to live by themselves because they take heavy medications and need a certain amount of sleep each night. Others may need a certain amount of sunlight each day, so they need to be placed in a certain part of the dorm with direct sunlight,” said Lamb.
Each housing request received by DRC is considered unique and is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Though the UA is a nationwide leader in disability access, there are always ways to improve.
“It’s a continual process,” said Lamb. “We have to change with the times. Our processes are constantly being revisited to ensure equal opportunity for all members of the campus community.”
Angeline Carbajal is the Program Coordinator of Communications at the UA Disability Resource Center. She started as a student worker for the DRC her freshman year and graduated from the UA in May 2015 with her bachelor’s in journalism. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree in marketing starting August 2017.