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Creating the Whole College Experience for All Students

Written by: Lauren Kelley

The college experience should be more than just classes for every college student. This ties into concepts we refer to often during class such as human engineering and universal design. Human engineering is designing with people in mind and universal design builds on that by making that apply for all people: designing environments that can be accessed and used by everyone, regardless of their ability or disability. It is important for universities to design not only their campuses, but also their social structures, to be accessible for each student, so every student regardless of their ability or disability receive equal opportunities to an equal and full college experience. This blog post will look at different universities and ways in which they have made this possible for students with disabilities of all kinds.

These universities have set an example of different ways college institutions can go about making sure no part of the college experience gets lost for students with disabilities, that these students are provided with the resources, facilities, and opportunities they need to create enjoyable and memorable experiences outside of the classroom. A major part of the development of SJU’s Project Bloom was to look at other universities’ plans and accessibility projects as inspiration and guides for our own accessibility mapping project. So this blog post will look at different universities that have implemented unique accessibility features in their institutions, that can be used as resources for other universities, including our own, on ways to integrate all aspects of college into the experience for students with disabilities as universities move forward in creating more accessible and equal opportunities for all students.

Accessibility Off-Campus

University of Illinois “Access Urbana-Champaign”:

A part of the college experience outside of class is exploring the area and trying different places to eat with friends and family. The University of Illinois has created a resource called “Access Urbana-Champaign” that provides the audience with a guide to finding accessible restaurants in the area around the university. They categorized each restaurant into different levels of accessibility based on 25 different survey questions. This survey included questions about parking, measurements of space, accessible restrooms, menus offered in Braille or large print, emergency alarms with audio and visual signals, as well as policy on service animals. The restaurant is then rated either a level of “excellent” “good” or “limited” accessibility based on the responses. This resource has more than 121 restaurants in the area listed on the website.

Accessibility in Athletics

The University of Arizona Adaptive Athletics Department:

The University of Arizona recognizes the crucial role sports and athletics play in many individuals’ collegiate career, and how being part of a team can add to one’s sense of belonging and college experience. This university has gone on to create an adaptive athletics department, the largest and most successful collegiate program of it’s kind  in the country. This athletic department consists of six competitive teams: men’s and women’s basketball, rugby, track and road racing, hand cycling, tennis, and golf, as well as an adaptive fitness center for disabled students to train and work out in. Through this department, the university recruits and offers scholarships to promising athletes, many who go on to compete in the Paralympics, as well as resources and opportunities post graduation for their athletes.

Check out a video of their gym!

Accessibility in Student Life and Career Development

The University of Iowa REACH Program:

As a Big 10 University, the University of Iowa understands the importance of all aspects of college life from student life: residential living, sporting events, student organizations, to career development: internships, working with community partners, and prepping for jobs post graduation. UI offers all these opportunities to students with intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities through their UI Reach Program. The University of Iowa is able to provide a Big Ten college experience for all their students through this program. The REACH Programs gives students with these kinds of disabilities the opportunity to live in on campus residence halls, attend sporting and social events, explore career options, prepare for internships, and build their skills for the working world after college through mock interviews, field trips, and work with community partners.

Check out one student’s experience through this program!

Looking at what resources other universities have implemented in their institutions to continue to promote equal opportunities and continue to practice human and universal design can be very beneficial for St. Joe’s as we continue to grow, learn, and change as an university. To create a fully accepting environment and “home” for every student, the university has to work on making sure that environment is created and tailored for and to each individual. This universally accessible environment can be created by working on a smaller scaled project like creating a resource similar to U of Illinois’s “Access Urbana- Champaign” as an addition to Project Bloom, or it might consist of working on a bigger project, like an accessible gym for the physically disabled or a residence hall and program specifically for members of the community with learning disabilities. Some of the more long term projects might be more time consuming, expensive, and harder, but then again, you cannot put a price on a human being and their right to equal opportunities and experiences.

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