Students with disabilities need clearer housing processes

Prior to entering my sophomore year of college, I anticipated that the housing process would be as simple as the one my freshman year. But of course, when you have a chronic disability, the structure of our society often fails you and makes your life harder than it should be. 

My transition into housing sophomore year was stressful, because of several easily avoidable mistakes made by Student Accessibility Services, including incorrectly placing me in a non-accessible suite. 

SAS needs to improve their accommodation processes and communication in a way that ensures they are meeting the needs of disabled people on campus with the least amount of difficulty.

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The process for obtaining housing accommodations involves an official request form, a housing request form, and medical documentation of the disability, followed by a one-on-one evaluation with a member of SAS about what accommodations should be arranged. 

I first reached out to SAS in June 2018, a few months before the start of my freshman year. After submitting all required forms and having the evaluation via phone with SAS, the process was completed two weeks later and I was placed in an accessible suite. 

When housing applications came out for the following school year in April 2019, my main priority was being placed once again in a suite with an accessible shower, complete with a removable shower head, shower bar, and shower bench feature. My roommate and I went to pick our suite for our sophomore year, only to realize we didn’t know which room on the fourth floor of Piano Row was accessible. 

My roommate went to the Office of Housing and Residential Education, and they told her that anyone who requires housing accommodations for the following year must reapply for them in advance in January. But my chronic condition and my medically excused accommodations are already listed in SAS’s system, thus making reapplication redundant. 

While I spoke with SAS on the phone about the situation, my roommate ended up frantically picking a random suite on the floor to at least secure a room for the next year. I was told to meet with one of their staff members an hour later at the SAS office in the Union Bank Building. When I arrived there, they told me that the suite my roommate selected was coincidentally marked as accessible in the system, so everything happened to work out.

Or so I thought.

Four days before my scheduled move-in, I received an email from SAS stating that the suite I was supposed to be placed in had been incorrectly marked as accessible. The email said SAS would work with me to make the shower accessible by installing a removable shower head and bar. But I would have to provide my own shower bench.

After reading the email, I hastily ordered a $35 shower bench off of Amazon that I knew wasn’t going to get to campus on time anyway. 

On the day I moved back in, I checked the shower and saw multiple mistakes that didn’t match what I had discussed via email with SAS. Not only was the removable shower head not installed, but the shower bar was placed on the left side of the shower, vertical to the shower curtain, even though I had requested for it to be placed inside of the shower, parallel to the curtain. 

I immediately contacted SAS and was told that, with all the other maintenance requests, it would take a while for facilities to get around to adding the removable shower head, but another shower bar would be installed soon. 

On my first night in the dorm, I was ridden with anxiety as I struggled to take a shower. With minimal support from the poorly placed shower bar, plus the absence of a bench and a removable shower head, I was terrified that I would slip and fall. Since I moved in a day before all of my suitemates did, there was no one there to help in case I fell either. I lay in bed that night with a sore back from straining it to maintain my balance in the shower. 

Two days later, I checked the shower and found that another shower bar had been placed once again vertical to the curtain, but on the right side this time. Still, none had been installed inside of the shower. 

The mistakes that SAS had made could have easily been avoided. First of all, the office should have promoted the reapplication for housing accommodations as it is not a well known process. I would have been required to look for information about it on the college website in the middle of the previous school year when housing for the following year was the last thing on my mind. 

Similar to how Residential Life sends out emails to all students about the steps they need to take for housing selections, SAS should have sent out emails regarding their reapplication process, which would be especially beneficial for freshmen who have never gone through the process.

Plus, the system shouldn’t have been inaccurate. The provision of necessary accommodations for disabled students shouldn’t be compromised by sheer disorganization. I was also only informed of the mistake at the very last minute, which is not enough time to go about figuring out a solution. They should have been proactively double-checking any processed accommodations sooner than days before move-in.

More importantly, SAS shouldn’t have expected me to pay for my own shower bench out of pocket. While I was able to afford the shower bench, others might not be able to due to financial difficulties. Had someone else been in my place, they could have struggled indefinitely until they could acquire an affordable option. And regardless, I shouldn’t have had to wait almost a week for an accessible feature that was supposed to be included in my suite already.

SAS went about making my suite accessible in a somewhat slow and almost trivial manner, without taking into consideration how much I would struggle in the days leading up to the alterations. Though I’m sure facilities had a high volume of other requests during that time, my requests were a direct result of an SAS mistake that posed a safety hazard for me. Therefore, they should’ve been prioritized. 

SAS could have switched my suite with the accessible one on that floor or even on another floor, if necessary.

After my experiences with SAS, I’m calling on the department to improve their housing accommodation processes and communication with students. Any mistakes that compromise accessibility and the ability for disabled students to safely and comfortably live their lives on campus should be met with nothing less than the best efforts to fix it.

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