Accommodations and accessibility challenges students with disabilities on campus

Accommodations+and+accessibility+challenges+students+with+disabilities+on+campus

Kye Lewis struggled with getting up and down three flights of stairs every day while living in the West Village residence hall of Texas Wesleyan University as a resident assistant. Not having elevators in the building made it difficult for Lewis to maneuver their way around, especially with them having a physical disability. 

It was miserable. Now I’m in a handicap room and I’m okay, but it took a lot.”

— Kye Lewis

Kye Lewis still finds ways to stay active and social at Texas Wesleyan through their participation in school events. Photo courtesy of Kye Lewis

Obtaining a post-secondary education is a goal for many students – no matter the obstacles in between. At Texas Wesleyan University, students find accommodations to have pros and cons when it comes to accessibility on campus, for students with disabilities. 

Kye Lewis, a senior theatre major, suffer from hereditary disorders.  

“I personally suffer from EDS where my joints will pop out of place and lock in random positions,” Lewis said.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes, also called EDS, affect the body by causing abnormal structure. 

As someone who is heavily involved on campus, Lewis said it is not as easy for them to move around compared to other students at Texas Wesleyan, due to physical disability. 

“It makes it really hard for me to walk, carry things, do all the things sometimes,” Lewis said. “My joints hurt so much sometimes that I can’t get out of bed.”  

Lewis experienced challenges with receiving the proper accommodation due to a lack of medical documentation. 

“For one thing, a lot of people fake illnesses and I get why there’s a precaution there,” Lewis said, “but in America it’s very expensive to be disabled and it’s very hard to be disabled. Doctors have the choice to deny you, and a lot of people who have disabilities don’t get the kind of treatment that they deserve.” 

Lewis said they cannot get proper accommodations from the institution due to their previous doctor resigning as their primary physician after getting diagnosed. 

“I did fill out the accommodations sheet and I got an accommodation for my heart murmurs,” they said, “but I didn’t get anything for my EDS. I wasn’t able to get in contact with her again, so I wasn’t able to get that form filled out by the doctor.

Kye Lewis and Robyn Bradley, two students with disabilities discuss their opinions with Tatiyana Giddings about how Texas Wesleyan accommodate their needs. 

Robyn Bradley pushes through her challenges each day with a smile. Photo courtesy of Robyn Bradley

How disability accommodations function  

Although there is a process to obtaining accommodations for disabilities, there is also a limitation to how far an institution can go to maintain a functioning campus for everyone.  

In a 2019 research brief by the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD), challenges and barriers that arise at post-secondary institutions include:  

Being unaware of the resources an institution provides for students with disabilities . 

Possibility of faculty unawareness of students with disabilities, leading to a lack of accommodation in classroom settings and environment.  

Campus access and support issues such as uneven pathways, unmarked crosswalks, lack of ramp access to buildings, and gaps in seating for wheelchair access.  

Possible discomfort around other students, causing created barriers to avoid discrimination from others around campus.  

A national survey conducted across the U.S. showed that many students felt informed about getting accommodations. Of 75 students, 80% felt they could get 504 accommodations or knew how to. Source: Debie Galanouli, 2020.

At Texas Wesleyan University, accommodations are available for students with disabilities by contacting the Disability Services. According to Texas Wesleyan’s Disability Services website, “students with disabilities are provided a ‘level playing field’ so that they may compete equally with their peers.”  

The site also stated that students should be able to provide documentation from a licensed physician, psychologist, diagnostician, or other healthcare professional before they are given a Letter of Accommodation.  

Disability Accommodations Coordinator Lessie Haney said students have a process they must complete to obtain certain accommodations.  

“We have an application on our website that they can apply to,” Haney said. “We need some medical background to back up those accommodations. Once we get that, we look over the accommodations and we see what they’re requesting versus what we can give them.”  

Haney also stated that testing and medical documentation is a must to acquire the correct accommodation.  

“You know, some students deal with Dyslexia as well,” Haney added. “They get tested with different tests through a psychologist or through some testing centers that we send them to, and then if they test at a certain level, they’re able to get that disability [accommodation].”  

Accommodation for students with disabilities across Texas institutions 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. This allows students with disabilities to feel accommodated at their chosen institution without feeling neglected.  

At Texas Wesleyan, accessibility is consistent around buildings, but some buildings do not have the easiest accessibility. This can also be due to most buildings being over one hundred years old, according to txwes.edu.

A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics based on data from 2015-16 showed that 19% of enrolled undergraduate students reported having a disability. However, a later survey in 2020 by Mental Health America stated, “70% of students with mental health disabilities were not registered to receive accommodations on campus.” 

Compared to Texas Wesleyan, other universities across Texas accommodate the needs of their students slightly differently. 

One-minute guide to understanding accessible spaces by Jake Parker .  

At the University of Texas at Austin, students with disabilities are celebrated through a disability graduation

Dallas Baptist University (DBU), a private institution, provide similar accommodations as Wesleyan. As noted on their Disability and Accommodation Services website, they have students provide proper medical documentation and complete request forms.   

University of North Texas in Denton also requests accommodation letters. In addition, the UNT Office of Disability Access allows students to volunteer as peer note-takers for students with disabilities, who need assistance accessing lectures, similar to Texas Wesleyan. 

Being her last semester as president of the Student Government Association at Wesleyan, Lewis said they hope to see changes made on and around Wesleyan for future students with disabilities on campus. 

“A lot of the sidewalks are hard to maneuver because they’re so old, so I’m working with the City of Fort Worth about that as well,” Lewis said. “I’m hoping to get it done this year, but knowing how slow everything’s going, I unfortunately do not think that’s gonna happen.” 

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