Last updated on November 13, 2019
Something that Saint Joseph’s has that many other colleges do not is a developed Autism Education and Support program, The Kinney Center. This center commits to educating and training professionals who will be working with those who are autistic, as well as supporting families who are involved. On their website it states that, “The Kinney Center aims to improve the lives of individuals and families managing an autism diagnosis, while training compassionate and dedicated professionals empowered and capable of fulfilling our mission beyond our walls.”
Because this program has such a presence on campus and has made headlines, it made think about how this campus’ accessibility could affect those who participate in the Kinney Center – either those who are participants or those who are staff and faculty.
I spoke to Lindsey DelCarlino, associate director of programs at the Kinney Center. During our conversation, she started off by mentioning that people who have autism not always have a physical disability, so accessibility to them is a much broader term, “In relation to individuals with autism, it doesn’t mean there is a physical disability, so the campus as a whole for individuals that have autism the (physical) accessibility isn’t an issue, but even the Kinney Center itself we don’t have a lot of space and we aren’t able to accept certain individuals that may or may not have physical needs.”
The Kinney Center offers Day, Evening and Camp programming. The camp that they have during the summer offers a wider spectrum of participants and uses other facilities close to Connelly Hall such as the O’Pake Recreation Center. “We utilize the opake rec center a lot, but that isn’t ADA friendly either. Specifically we can get someone to the pool deck, but there isn’t a wheelchair accessible device to let someone into the pool.” Having a recreation center without the capabilities to be useful to everyone doesn’t allow for some to do the activities that they love doing.
We talked about what else falls under this umbrella of accessibility. The idea of having an accessible campus doesn’t just mean that there needs to be more wheelchair ramps, even though there does, but it also means creating spaces that are accepting of people who can’t be around a lot of noise, people who need rooms with windows, people who can’t be in areas with strong odors etc. DelCarlino told me about how one of the most important things for the Kinney Center is to be able to have programming with rooms that can adjust temperature, “The HVAC system is not necessarily set up correctly, and we have a dividing wall that we can set up in the room making one side of the room either colder or hotter than the other. That is really dangerous for individuals who suffer from seizures because sometimes just a small variation in temperature can induce a seizure.
While there are definitely improvements that can be made on campus, as we are seeing throughout our research now, the Kinney Center has made modifications so that their participants can fully enjoy their experiences in a safe manner. DelCarlino talked about the sensory break space in Hagan Arena for those that need to take a break from the loud noises of games, “It’s in the Hall of Fame hallway, which isn’t an appropriate space since there is the glass casing…but we do provide noise cancelling headphones for people to check out so they can watch the game, but it is also a nice place to get away from the business of the game, but there isn’t access to watch the game on tvs, but it actually is a really quiet alternative if the game gets too wild.”
Saint Joseph’s has always taken pride in the Kinney Center, and rightfully so. They create programming and an environment that not only educates others, but also makes families and people with autism feel welcomed. With having such an amazing program like this, why would we not do more to make the campus more accessible?