A harsh and unfortunate reality for some individuals is that, regardless of their intellectual capabilities, their career opportunities could be limited due to long-term impacts of the physical inaccessibility of many college campuses across the nation. Prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, some people were forced to seriously reconsider their course of study due to the limitations presented by campuses with major physical accessibility challenges. All these years later, while the nature of disability services have since grown, some with physical disabilities are still facing unnecessary challenges finding accessible campuses. Many colleges and universities have made some modifications, which is a small victory, however few are fully accessible, as many have dated, pre-war construction on their campuses.
Thanks to New Mobility Magazine and United Spinal Association, Wheels On Campus: A Guide to Wheelchair-Friendly Education (PDF) has now been published to help assist individuals with physical disabilities in finding accessible campuses to pursue their aspirations. This critical guide not only seeks out campuses that are more physically accessible, but those that provide opportunities for social immersion. These opportunities include but are not limited to opportunities for adaptive sports and recreation, wheelchair repair, appropriate physical therapy, and nearby rehabilitation facilities.
Even with the gaining popularity of remote learning, the importance of hands-on learning, especially in higher education, cannot be dismissed. The goal is to provide equal opportunities for learning, employment options, and earning potential for individuals in wheelchairs — or rather, not limit those potentials with something as unavoidable as the lack of campus accessibility. Prospective and current college students should not have to choose between academics and accommodation when selecting their courses.
Hopefully, the creation of this guide will help students be proactive in selecting the best fit for their college career, without having to personally visit or research each campus individually. "What this guide does best is give students a look at how today’s leading wheelchair-friendly colleges have created their welcoming cultures: those programs, activities and resources — as well as the way they interweave with the overall campus experience — that provide the best chance of maximizing your abilities and potential," said Tim Gilmer, Project Editor of Wheels on Campus.
According to the guide, the following colleges and universities, after surveyed, were found to have the top-ten most wheelchair-friendly campuses.
- University of Illinois: U of I’s Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services is the first university program in the nation to accommodate the disabled population, and the accommodations they provide easily put them in first place. The campus has innovative wheelchair sports programs, computer labs with adaptive software, aides and personal attendant programs, accessible off-campus housing resources, scholarships for wheelchair users, sports, recreation and volunteer opportunities overseen by the Office of Campus Life, a rehabilitation service fraternity, accessible stadium seating and restrooms for sports and concerts, elevators, lift-equipped buses, and nearby medical and rehabilitation services.
- University of California: Berkeley: This campus features a gym with accessible equipment, an adaptive basketball team, accessible off-campus housing resources, connections to wheelchair repair shops off-campus, computer labs with adaptive software, and a strong disability community with accessible services in the city.
- Wright State University: In terms of wheelchair accessibility, the campus is one of the best in the nation. Individuals with service canine companions will love the accessible dog park. The cafes employ trained staff to provide assistance in loading and carrying dining trays and Obi robotic feeding arms are provided, if needed. Accessible restrooms with adjustable height transfer tables and ceiling lifts are available, as well as personal assistants to provide assistance with toileting, changing clothes and repositioning. Wipes, Chux pads, pull-ups, cleaner and plastic laundry bags, as well as wheelchair maintenance are all available. Adaptive sports programs including wheelchair soccer, basketball, rugby and dodgeball are available and the fitness center has accessible exercise machines. A program that pairs typically-abled individuals with their disabled peers for recreational training, is also popular.
- University of Arizona: This campus offers one of the largest Disability Resource Centers in the nation and features wheelchair basketball, tennis, rugby, track and road racing, hand-cycling, and an adaptive golf program. A fitness center with strength and conditioning staff are available, as well as a wheelchair maintenance and repair shop, peer support programs for learning independent living skills, a tutoring program, and an accessible study-abroad program. Accessible public transportation is also available.
- University of Wisconsin, Whitewater: This small campus is easy to navigate with a wheelchair and all buildings are designed, modified or connected with universal design principles. In the event of inclement weather, wheelchair-accessible vans are available for an annual fee of $900 - $2,400. The university boasts stellar wheelchair basketball teams, a physical therapy gym with wheelchair accessible exercise equipment, and an on-site, cost-free physical therapist.
- California State University: CSUN’s Center of Achievement for Adapted Physical Exercise offers adaptive therapeutic exercise programs, including swimming. The student health center is accessible and offers a variety of accommodations and services, including adjustable tables and an accessible nap pod. On-campus housing is accessible, and off-campus housing provided by the nearby Freedom to Live Foundation offers independence training for spinal-cord-injured individuals.
- University of Florida: All residence halls on this campus can be made accessible upon request, but the ground floor of one of the residence halls truly encourages independent living. It features track lift systems to transport individuals from a chair to a bed or bath, blinds that can be opened and closed with an iPad, large bathrooms with roll-in showers, and individual spaces for personal care attendants to assist with laundry and cooking food. Accessible municipal transit options for reaching off-campus venues are available, as well as an on-campus free paratransit service, and ramp-equipped vans with assigned parking spaces.
- Ball State University: Due to its modern campus, Ball State is very wheelchair-friendly, which is why just this year, it ranked #1 for students with physical disabilities in College Magazine. Ball State offers on-demand shuttles, a wheelchair basketball program, which provides the chairs, and was the first in the nation to offer power soccer. Personal aides are available for assistance in labs and on field trips, and to help navigate the campus during inclement weather. On-site physical therapy services and connections to wheelchair repair services off-campus are also offered.
- University of Washington: Even the Alpha Omega Pi sorority house at the University of Washington is accessible, featuring an elevator and an accessible door with a push plate opener. It also has a roll-in shower and a lowered bed. By registering with the Disability Resources for Students, accommodations such as height-adjustable desks, note takers, recording devices, personal aides and class location changes are available. Dorms feature keyless entry and roll-in showers. On-campus wheelchair repair, free accessible shuttle services and reserved parking spaces are also available.
- Auburn University: Door-to-door golf cart service is offered to individuals with disabilities and all transit systems are lift-equipped with all academic and residential buildings having accessible drop-off and pick-up locations. A wheelchair basketball program is also offered.
As you can see, the common themes amongst all of the aforementioned inclusive campuses involve not only creating physically accessible dorms and classrooms, but offering adaptive sports programs, assistants and/or aides, wheelchair repair opportunities, transportation options, computer labs with adaptive software, accessible gyms, and more. The goal is to have every college and university provide equal access to individuals of all abilities, both on and off campus.
These colleges ranked 11-20 in the accessibility survey:
- University of Minnesota
- Portland State University
- Texas A&M University
- University of Nevada
- Hofstra University
- Michigan State University
- University of Oregon
- University of Michigan
- Southern Illinois University
- Miami University
Additional information on these campuses, along with personal testimonials of the aforementioned top twenty colleges and universities, can be found in the Wheels On Campus Guide. This guide also contains many other useful resources and tips for prospective college students. In creating a more inclusive campus by making some of these accommodations, colleges and universities are enabling their students with wheelchairs to focus on academics instead of accessibility, just as their peers do. They are also opening their doors to more prospective students, perhaps attracting some of the highest caliber candidates, and producing the most accomplished alumni who are leaders in their prospective fields.