The transition to college is an exciting event for soon-to-be and new high school graduates students. For students with disabilities, including physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments, navigating the college residential experience may present unique challenges. This is where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plays a crucial role in ensuring that all students have equal access to housing accommodations. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of ADA accommodations in residential halls and how families can advocate to create an inclusive and supportive living environment for their student.
Understanding ADA Accommodations:
The ADA is a landmark piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and mandates the provision of reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to goods, services, and facilities, including housing. In the context of college residential halls, ADA accommodations are essential for creating an environment that meets the diverse needs of all students, regardless of their abilities. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, "[colleges] are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided." This means that colleges are required to provide reasonable accommodations to residence halls to support the needs of students with disabilities. 'Reasonable', as you may assume, is a vague term that may be interpreted differently by different colleges and universities. There is not legislation that requires colleges to provide accommodations in a designated way, just that they provide them in a reasonable fashion.
Accommodation Request Process
Whether your student has a learning, physical, cognitive or sensory disability, the accommodation request process in higher education will be the same. Read more about this process in our blog articles here and here. In a nutshell, the steps to receive accommodations in college are:
Step 1: Register on your college's Disability Office website
Step 2: Submit documentation verifying a disability
Step 3: Schedule a meeting/interview with the Disability Office staff
Step 4: Receive your Accommodation Letter and share the letter with your professors each semester
Check out our short video explaining the accommodation process in 1 minute or less!
When asking for accommodations in higher education, college/universities are not required to provide the same accommodations your student may have received in high school.
Colleges are NOT required to follow a 504 or IEP your student may have had in high school.
But don't worry. We've made this process easier for new college families and students. Jennifer Sullivan has created a worksheet to help demystify college accommodations. Afterall, if students don't know what terminology is used in college, how do they know what accommodations to ask for? The worksheet can be found in her workbook, Sharing the Transition to College Workbook found on Amazon.
Then check out other common residential accommodations requested by students in college. We've shared 5 residential ADA accommodations below:
1.Accessible Room Assignments:
One of the primary considerations for ADA accommodations in residential halls is providing accessible room assignments. This may involve assigning rooms on the ground floor or in locations with easy access to elevators, ensuring that students with mobility challenges can navigate their living space independently. Accessible room features may include widened doorways, lowered countertops, numerical keypad entry instead of room keys and other modifications to enhance accessibility.
2. Bathroom and Shower Accessibility:
For students with disabilities, the accessibility of bathrooms and showers is a critical factor in ensuring a comfortable and inclusive living experience. ADA accommodations may involve installing grab bars, non-slip surfaces, or other modifications to make these spaces accessible to individuals with mobility or balance challenges. Proximity to accessible bathrooms or providing a dorm room within a suite that offers a private bathroom is also a key consideration in room assignments.
3. Visual and Auditory Accommodations:
Students with visual or auditory impairments may require specific accommodations in their residential environment. This could involve installing visual alarms for fire safety, providing tactile signage, or ensuring that common areas are equipped with appropriate lighting. Additionally, colleges may offer accommodations such as captioning services for videos or access to sign language interpreters for communal events and academic courses.
4. Service and Emotional Support Animals:
For students with disabilities that benefit from the assistance of service animals or emotional support animals (ESAs), ADA accommodations extend to residential halls. Colleges are generally required to allow service animals in residential spaces, and many also permit ESAs. Clear communication between students, the college administration, and residential staff is crucial to ensure a smooth integration of these accommodations. Many colleges list their policies for emotional support animals on their website. Here is an example of the University of Connecticut's (UCONN) policy on ESAs.
5. Emergency Evacuation Plans:
In the event of an emergency, it's imperative that all students, including those with disabilities, have a clear and accessible evacuation plan. ADA accommodations may involve personalized evacuation plans that consider the specific needs and mobility challenges of individuals. Residential staff should be trained to assist students with disabilities during emergency situations.
The more your student can express their residential needs and accommodations, the more information and insight the Accessibility Office will have to work from. Together, you can shape a plan to thrive in college.
If you are interested in learning more about navigating learning supports and accommodations in college, please contact us. We are experts in the field of disability support in higher education and would be happy to schedule a consultation with you!