Residence hall accomodations for students with disabilities are good, need some improvement

By Felix Sarver

For a student with a disability like Zack Olson, the residence halls could improve on some issues, but they do provide good accommodations overall.

“It is an issue from a disability rights perspective, but it’s not a huge issue,” Olson said.

Olson, a junior assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired major and a visually-impaired student, said the residence halls don’t always provide microwaves or mailboxes with braille, but some of these obstacles can be worked around.

Students with disabilities in the residence halls receive assistance from Housing and Dining, and also from the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR).

The range of features each building provides for students with a disability varies however, Residential Facilities coordinator Michael Kavulic said in an email. The physical accessibility of Lincoln and Douglas hall are limited by their multi-layered design and lack of elevators. Other accessibility features, like braille labels and visual and audible fire alarms, are provided in those halls.

Students with physical or mobility disabilities may prefer to live in Neptune West, Stevenson Towers and Grant Towers, according to the CAAR website. Visually-impaired students may prefer to live in Neptune Hall. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have rooms with visual alerting devices throughout the residence halls.

Olson said he likes living in Neptune West and does not feel like he has to live there because of his disability. The hall is centrally located and is fairly convenient. The hall’s smaller size makes for easy navigation, he said.

A number of factors can play into how well a student with disabilities adapt to the residence halls, Olson said. The quality of an individual’s education and his or her personality can determine how well he or she work around obstacles. Contacting the residence halls for assistance is possible but sometimes takes some persistence, Olson said.

“I was fortunate enough to have the ingenuity to kind of fill in the holes,” Olson said of the issues he came across in the residence halls.

Olson said he can’t speak for all students with disabilities and how they deal with their own issues.

Kavulic said Housing and Dining can meet with students individually when they have an issue or receive recommendations from CAAR. In some instances, Housing and Dining has to retrofit a space with accessibility features to meet a student’s needs.

In an email, CAAR Director Melanie Thompson said students with disabilities have not voiced complaints to CAAR about any lack of accessible space in the residence halls. The current residential space is meeting student interests, she said.

Kavulic said he can’t speak to comparative data or historical trends, but the response about accessibility in the residence halls is good.

“I can tell you that I have interacted with numerous students and parents who tell me that they consider NIU over other institutions because of the reputation it has for working with students with disabilities,” Kavulic said.

One of the ways the diverse needs of students are met is through universal design with facilities projects, Kavulic said. Universal design is an the idea that all new environments and products should be usable by everyone, regardless of a peron’s age, ability or circumstance, according to the Center for Universal Design website.

“As more students of an ever-growing range of needs and identities see higher education as an option, we will continue to see an increasing demand for accessibility on many levels,” Kavulic said.