Disability Friendly Colleges
By Rachel Ross
If you've got a disability, choosing a college means thinking about a lot more than just academic facilities and social amenities. This may be your first opportunity to live independently. Will the support you need to live on your own be available? Personal assistance services? Accessible classrooms, transportation and living quarters? Adaptive sports? Will you be able to participate fully in campus life?
Although we couldn't rate every university in the country, we've tried to provide you with a baseline to start from. The schools we chose to describe may not be ideal for you, but they will show you what to look for.
Last winter, New Mobility sent a questionnaire to disability resource office (DRO) directors at 50 public universities and colleges selected from the top tier of U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking. The responses varied greatly in detail provided, but a lot of useful information did come in.
Thirty-four schools returned the surveys in time for inclusion in this story, and you'll find that information presented in the charts below. Ten campuses stood out from the crowd, either for some unique program, opportunity or approach to service delivery, or for the less definable attributes that somehow make an environment disability-friendly. We've ranked them in an admittedly arbitrary order. It's important to keep in mind that any one of these schools could be the best for you, or any of hundreds of others we couldn't review.
Some generalizations are possible. Campus focus, for example, has shifted from "physical access" to "programmatic access." That means that every aspect of your major and related studies must be made accessible to you--even if it entails altering locations, field trips or testing procedures--but that not every facility on campus must be fully accessible. The idea is to provide you with equal access to programs, not to fixate on ramps and elevators.
Services range from basic academic resources and accommodations to "one-stop shops" offering strikingly comprehensive services. The disparities sometimes result from funding levels, sometimes from philosophical differences. Many DROs say that, if they take over the functions of other offices--such as tutoring and financial aid--there won't be any incentive for these departments to develop their own staff skills on disability issues. When this theory prevails, the DRO plays a consulting role to faculty and staff, and students with disabilities gain a lot of experience--good and bad--in dealing with the broader university infrastructure. When a DRO takes a more proactive stance by offering a broad range of services, it is usually driven by the desire to tailor services to the individual needs of students with disabilities.
A good but fairly basic menu of services and accommodations might include accessible classrooms and furniture, adaptive equipment assessment and referral, adaptive recreation programs, liaison with faculty and vocational rehabilitation offices, alternative testing formats, grievance resolution, housing advice, TTY network, curriculum modifications, laboratory and library support, mobility assistance, notetakers, paratransit service, parking accommodations, priority or online registration, referrals for personal assistance services, and sign language instruction and interpreters.
More comprehensive services might include career counseling, community mental health programs in residential halls, crisis intervention, disability management advice, electronic access to libraries and course syllabi, specialized tutoring, peer mentors, support groups, PCA pool, on-site therapists and rehabilitation professionals, internships, work-study programs, overseas study, test-taking center, wheelchair rescue/repair/loan programs, and workshops in self-advocacy, financial management and other disability lifestyle issues.
Our best advice on making a final decision is to give particular weight to the academic quality of the school, the accessibility of the campus and surrounding community, and the services and opportunities available--both on- and off-campus--that will make your disability a non-factor in your ability to take part in the university experience.
Gotta Ditch the Quad