Mobility Challenges and College

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One of the things I like about this constantly evolving technological age is the ability to meet and learn about people I would never have encountered otherwise. A young woman I’ve met through blogging recently reminded me about the daily challenges that those with mobility impairments face; this in turn got me thinking about the young people I work with who also live with mobility disabilities.

Whatever field of study a student is interested in, some campuses are going to be easier to navigate than others. Some people choose to weigh the physical challenges of a campus against the strength of the program the campus offers. Others decide that no matter how many obstacles a campus provides, they will find ways to overcome them to study where they choose.

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The campus where I work provides physical challenges due to our geographic and latitudinal location – we’re set in a rocky, hilly, cold, northern location, sandwiched into a valley with a highway splitting our campus in half, and the dormitory half of the campus being built into and onto a hill. Hardly ideal for most people and in the winter an absolute nightmare at times, to navigate around.

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How do students adjust and how has the campus adjusted? We’ve found that rather than wheelchairs,  three wheeled scooters are a better adaptation to the environment. The campus isn’t overly large, which means at least the classroom are all fairly close together – as an institution we can provide students with priority registration, so they can arrange class times/locations in a way that allows for the time in-between classes that makes the individual comfortable.

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I did advocate persistently until we had electronic doors installed on all buildings, and when needed we provided students with remote control openers for these doors – when you have a scooter in winter a remote door opener just works better than trying to get close enough to physically hit a big button to open a door.

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What doesn’t work so well? The highway running between the classroom side of campus and the dorm side of campus remains one of my pet peeves – students with mobility issues need to get across that road in the winter without falling or getting stuck. At least we do have a great grounds crew who tries to keep the route passable. This is hardly ideal however.

Dinning halls can also be problematic. Ask anyone in a wheelchair and they’ll tell you that most dinning halls aren’t designed with them in mind. And someone with balance and stability problems will be challenged to carry a tray through the average dinning hall – sometimes students have to use assistance even if they would prefer to be completely independent.

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My real point though is – universities can make adjustments, even if at first they don’t realize that adjustments need to be made. Sometimes it does take a disabled person speaking out and explaining why something isn’t working, in order for change to happen; once change has happened future students will benefit and the university may even become more diverse as a wider range of people begin to feel comfortable there.

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For an individual’s peace of mind and to lower personal stress, however, I would suggest that before accepting a place at a college one should take a tour of the campus. See for yourself where the challenges will be, then talk to the disability service provider to get a sense of how resistant to change the institution is. Only then are you ready to make a decision about if a particular school is the right place for you.

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2 thoughts on “Mobility Challenges and College

    • Thank you – I find it humbling that people are helping me connect with others – I hope to increase the number of students I assist through social media but that is the work of a community, never an individual 🙂

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