Acclaimed Beckwith Hall assists disabled students

By Eric Heisig

Shannon O’Brien is looking for an apartment for her senior year at the University. She is finding the process difficult for a number of reasons.

O’Brien, junior in AHS, has spinal muscular atrophy, confining her to an electric wheelchair. She has lived at Beckwith Hall, 201 E. John St., for three years and requires assistance with some of her daily activities.

One option available to students with disabilities is Beckwith, which is considered as Private Certified Housing.

Paige Lewis, disabilities specialist at Beckwith, said there are about 20 residents who live in the building.

There is a dining hall, and each resident has their own room, sharing a bathroom with one other person. There are also personal assistants hired to help the residents with daily living.

Susann Heft, disability specialist in the department of Disability Resources and Educational Services, said having a place like Beckwith Hall on campus is a boon for the University.

“There is no institution that has assisted living residence halls with that much assistance,” Heft said. “They are not at the same level and detail for some of the transitional preparedness that we provide.”

Lewis said the makeup of Beckwith is unique in contrast to traditional residence halls.

“We are so different from the typical dorms,” she said. “We have freshmen up to a third-year law student living in here.”

O’Brien said she has enjoyed the time she lived in Beckwith.

“It is smaller, so there is more of a tight-knit community,” she said.

The only downfall, O’Brien said, was that not many people know about Beckwith, so she did not feel involved in as many activities.

“You don’t get opportunities to do things outside of Beckwith,” she said.

Still, some students may consider private housing too much like the University residence halls. There are other options off campus, including apartments that are built for students with disabilities.

O’Brien has looked at some of these apartments and said they offer amenities like elevators, lowered showers and countertops, widened doorways and enough space to use a wheelchair.

The problem with these places is that they fill up fast, and not with the neediest people.

“The apartments are being taken,” O’Brien said. “They are giving accessible apartments to people who do not need them.”

Heft said off-campus living is considerably more difficult for disabled students.

“(Accessible and non-accessible housing) is all integrated,” Heft said. “It is pretty challenging to find accessible housing around campus. As a community, there is definitely room for improvement.”