On-Campus Housing for Disabled Students

Photography by Shreya Rathore

Living on campus at RIT undoubtedly has its ups and downs. From housing assignments, to broken elevators and other facilities, and alarms waking you up in the middle of the night — living on campus can seem difficult.

For disabled students, however, dealing with these issues becomes part of their day-to-day routine. Evidently, these complications don’t even begin to explain the multitude of issues, neglect and difficulties that disabled students are faced with when it comes to RIT housing.

Merely an Afterthought

Anyone who has walked around RIT may have noticed how inaccessible the campus is, from the Gracie’s ramp having too high of an incline to some buildings not having ramps at all. After 53 years, RIT is barely compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, seemingly not prioritizing the more than 700 disabled students who get accommodations through DSO at RIT.

Angeline Hamele, a third year Sociology and Applied Modern Languages and Cultures double major, as well as chair of the Facilities, Parking and Transportation Committee (FPAT), has experience dealing with inaccessibility at RIT, especially when entering buildings.

"I couldn't eat at Gracie's, which was a requirement for first years, because the ramp was too steep," Hamele stated. "The ADA requires ramps to have no greater than an 8% slope but the Gracie's ramp exceeded that ... The accessible button in [University Commons] was bent in half because people abuse it so much ... I have to call Public Safety a lot for different accessibilities on campus.”

Other common issues that many disabled students are faced with include inaccessible bathrooms and doorways that they simply have no control over.

“There’s a bathroom I can’t get into because the door is too heavy,” Hamele explained. “I just have to wait until someone passes by just so I can use the bathroom.”

In some cases though, Hamele, among other disabled students muster up their strength to pry doors open and wedge themselves inside — risking damage to their chairs or equipment — just to get through a doorway.

Stuck at Home

On-campus housing has been especially difficult for students with disabilities, such as Madison Russell, a fourth year Human Centered Computing major and wheelchair user.

“My issues with RIT housing started the second I committed to RIT,” Russell said. “For disabled students, we are completely at the mercy of what disability services and housing wants to do.”

For disabled students, we are completely at the mercy of what disability services and housing wants to do.

The struggle with living in inaccessible dorms — such as Russell's dorm on the second floor and Hamele's dorm as far up as the seventh floor — has proven to be an unnecessarily exhausting lifestyle.

For example, broken elevators can be an inconvenience for everyone, but while non-disabled students can simply take the stairs, students with disabilities sometimes have to go as far as rearranging their days as they wait for the elevators to be fixed.

“It can jeopardize people’s classes, it can jeopardize your health, it jeopardizes your safety, you can miss class, affect your attendance, you can miss meals and even simply miss hanging out with friends,” Hamele said. “Not only is it a physical toll on you but it’s a mental and emotional toll on you as well.”

“Not only is it a physical toll on you but it’s a mental and emotional toll on you as well.”

For Russell, broken elevators have caused her to have to reschedule a test. She also almost missed an event she was hosting due to the lack of care and attention Public Safety gives to students in wheelchairs during these situations. In the case of one working elevator, other students refused to even let her on.

“I called Public Safety and all they said was, ‘I’m sure if you asked, someone will let you on,’” Russell stated. “After telling them I already tried that, they just replied with ‘we’ll see what we can do.’”

With no fire evacuation plans or training for those in wheelchairs and disabilities, all these students can do is “shelter in place” — by not moving from their location — and wait for someone to come get them.

Independently Dependent

Issues with RIT housing goes beyond the dorms, though, and presents even more issues when it comes to finding housing in places like Global Village or University Commons. RIT lacks a list of accessible housing options or accommodations for disabled students, and when students ask for one, they're told the list simply doesn’t exist.

In regards to accommodations, RIT leaves it up to the student to provide them with a list of what they need, which can be difficult if there are no references or examples of what those accommodations may be.

“This is something a lot of us don’t realize until we’ve moved in and we’re like, ‘Well I can’t reach this’ and then it’s an issue,” Russell said.

On the other hand, disabled students who are granted accessible housing may not even receive their requested accommodations. This is the case for Hamele, who moved into University Commons at the beginning of the year and could barely use any of the facilities in her room due to unmet accommodations.

For starters, housing and RIT's Facilities Management Services failed to fulfill any of Hamele's requests: replace the washer and dryer, make the oven more wheelchair accessible by replacing it with one that has controls on the front, clean the bathroom and install automatic door openers for the heavy doors. Luckily, Hamele was able to get an automatic door opener for the front door and bedroom. However, the oven still is not accessible despite having put her request in last August.

“It was a lot of stuff all at once that they neglected to do in preparation of my arrival,” Hamele stated. “That’s why I took my job as the facilities committee chair ... I was able to make sure students with disabilities were put into the planning process — not just as an afterthought.”

In short, the struggle to find accommodating housing at RIT — along with navigating the inaccessible campus itself — is an issue that is commonly overlooked. In the words of Russell, “At RIT, students literally have to fight to get through the door.”