Accessibility is one of the most important issues in my life. Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with a muscle disorder, one which causes me to experience barriers to mobility and chronic back pain. It’s not easy having to navigate the world with a disability, but recently, I’ve begun to appreciate the way it’s informed my understanding of the world.
That’s why I chose to take part in this series. In reporting on the resources — or lack thereof — that the campus offers for mental health, physical disabilities and addiction, my perspective is informed by my own experience here.
Personally, I chose to attend Trinity because I thought it would be an accessible college — just judging by its size, I knew it would be easier to navigate than larger schools like The University of Texas at Austin. But, after living on campus for three years, I think the university could be doing a better job with how it handles accessibility.
Based on the interviews I’ve done over the course of my three-part series, here are some recommendations I think the administration should be seriously considering:
The Campus Master Plan ought to acknowledge that physical accessibility is an issue on campus. Yes, Trinity is American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. But, quite frankly, it’s insulting that in all 270 pages of the Campus Master Plan the word “elevator” isn’t even mentioned. If the university plans on renovating buildings, that ought to be a priority, or at least acknowledged. Resources that are designated to establish study spaces, make apartment-style rooms and even build new dormitories, should go to improving the ones that already exist first.
This is because while, accessible housing is provided to students with disabilities, inaccessible housing still affects the community. Family members may also be affected; not having elevator access in buildings like South Hall means that disabled parents are always excluded from their children’s on-campus lives. Why is that not something that the university takes into account?
Another goal included in the Campus Master Plan is to establish a “pedestrian priority”; this will happen as the campus will “remove parking and vehicles from the campus core.” Handicap parking is already a challenge for students and visitors to access regularly. Removing proximal parking and replacing it with parking structures will distance those much needed spots, making the campus even more difficult and inaccessible.
The Master Plan Committee needs to seriously rethink their unintended consequences, and who gets excluded because of what is and is not included. The university’s silence on this issue speaks volumes.
More resources should be provided to students on campus, from regular therapists to counselors who are equipped to assist those dealing with addiction. Many students don’t have cars, making accessibility to off-campus resources extremely difficult.
Following the publication of the article on accessibility, Dean Tuttle sent out a campus-wide email addressing an alcohol support group which he plans to reinstate. This is an important step for improving student life; not everyone is ready for, or comfortable with, going to Alcoholics Anonymous, but having an on-campus group could be an essential resource.
The campus should also re-evaluate how it deals with students who have a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Removing students from living in the dorms may protect the campus from a liability standpoint, but it puts the affected student at greater risk. When all of their friends have to live on campus due to the three-year residency rule, it means they are left alone. Students who live off campus are still students — and the university should be doing more to ensure their safety and well-being.
In prioritizing student interests, the administration should also consider concerns about addiction and drug use seriously by bringing Narcan to campus. This life-saving drug helps students who are overdosing on opioids— even if it just saves one life, campus staff such as TUPD, Health Services and ResLife should be equipped to administer the drug in case of emergency.
An important step in achieving accessibility is visibility — this means making all parts of campus aware of disability. Students should have some kind of space to be able to talk about their experiences with disabilities, whether that’s a support group for the community, or a forum where we can discuss how to improve accommodations.
Every student’s experience with disability is different — which is a fact that the administration and faculty involved in student life needs to be aware of. Students shouldn’t have to deal with skepticism from professors — whether that be for absences, extensions or keeping up in class. Reducing grades is, as one student put it, an unnecessary punishment; missing class already puts students at a setback — they’ve missed out on a full day of instruction. No one should feel like they have to fight for their accommodations, but many of the students I talked to feel as though they do.
In these cases, Student Accessibility Services (SAS) needs to do a better job at being an intermediary and advocate for students. This also means that communication between the departments who deal with disability and students needs to be improved.
One thing I believe the department needs to be doing better is alerting the campus when elevators break down. When so many departments are involved — ResLife, SAS, Facility Services — accessibility is everyone’s issue — but instead it falls between the cracks. It doesn’t matter if an elevator is only broken for a day or two. For some students, that’s an impossible barrier to overcome. I’m registered through SAS, and yet I have never once received an alert that an elevator is broken.
And I get it — the administration is trying, and progress is being made. Moving SAS, and planning to move Counseling Services out of Halsell, the farthest building from all residence halls, is an important step.
But the campus should be doing more.
Accessibility is everyone’s issue. Many disability scholars refer to people without disabilities as “temporarily abled bodies” — this is because everyone has the potential to become disabled, and, at some point in their lives, most likely will be. If you are not up in arms about this issue, you should be. All types of accessibility matter, and it’s something that this university should always be trying to actively maintain and improve in all parts of campus life.