University’s campus accessibility standard a guiding light for other schools

Imagine not being able to get out of your dorm room because the door is too small; not having an easy way to get on the bus to go to class; having to make accommodations to take the traditional pencil and paper exam.

Now imagine this happening every day, and extending to all parts of your life on campus, including getting food, going to parties or seeing your friends. Did you know you go to one of the few universities in the nation that goes above and beyond to address all of these (and many other) accessibility issues? Well, it’s true, and our influence is spreading.

As reported in The Daily Illini last week, the University of Florida is in the process of building a new residence hall for individuals with disabilities, set to open in August 2015. Importantly, in designing the residence hall, UF chose to model the structure on a building already familiar to many on this campus, Nugent Hall.

Through partnerships with The Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services and Beckwith Residential Support Services, Nugent Hall offers students with disabilities equal opportunities to University programs, services and activities, as well as assistance in performing activities of daily and independent living.

UF’s choice to base its new residence hall on the University’s design is a testament to our continued leadership in accessibility, a position we believe to be often (and incorrectly) overlooked.

Our University is by no means perfect. But one matter we have long excelled in is providing accessible infrastructure, facilities and opportunities to all who utilize our campus.

In 1948, we became the first University to formally provide support service programs to students with disabilities. We were also the first University to make all student services accessible, institute accessible architectural standards and create a transitional living program for students with physical disabilities according to the website of the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services. We even can claim the first service fraternity, Delta Sigma Omicron, founded by students with disabilities in 1948, that was dedicated to rehabilitation and opening opportunities for individuals with disabilities DRES says.

Next, we’d like to look at why accessibility is important to all students and faculty on campus.

At the most basic level, we are all humans. Most of us have, or someday will have, some kind of disability, whether visible or not, that affects our everyday lives: hearing loss, vision impairments, dementia. Some people get around campus on wheelchairs, some students have dyslexia and others have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Disabled or not, the University’s embracement of accessibility pays great dividends to everyone on our campus.

An accessible campus creates a sense of equality and adds to our diverse community. The world beyond college is not devoid of people with disabilities, and college is all about preparing you to learn and interact with all kinds of people who may one day be your colleagues, customers or even partners.

Maintaining accessible facilities and opportunities attracts talented scholars and athletes that make our student body stronger and contribute to our prestige. For example, did you know the University of Illinois not only established the first collegiate wheelchair basketball team, but also has one of the most successful programs in the country?

Most important, our accessibility is an important part of what makes us a welcome location and attractive to so many prospective students and academics. Accessibility shows we care, value and invest in people, despite the difficulties they may face.

Not only is our University revolutionary in its mission toward student accessibility, but other universities are paying attention. If we can help promote the very services that make our University especially unique and innovative to other schools, then we’re doing much more than transforming our own campus. We’re transforming others, too.