Equal Access: Universal Design of Housing and Residential Life

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A checklist for making registration offices welcoming and accessible to everyone

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D

College and university housing facilities and services, whether for single students or families, are important elements of a college education for many students. For students with disabilities, living on campus can facilitate access to academic programs and campus activities. This publication is a resource for campus housing and residential life staff and identifies key areas of concern, offers general guidance, and provides resources regarding disability access issues.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity. Housing programs must also comply with applicable state laws and federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This publication does not provide legal advice. To clarify issues, consult your campus legal counsel or ADA/504 compliance officer, or your regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Facilities and Programs to Consider

Housing facilities owned or managed by the campus, as well as services they offer, should adopt accessibility policies, guidelines, and procedures. These facilities and services include but are not limited to

Whom to Consider

In addition to students who live in campus housing, other individuals should be ensured access to housing facilities and programs. They include the following:

Coordination with Disabled Student Services

Staff should respect a student's privacy with respect to disability-related information whenever possible, sharing information only with those who have a need to know and in compliance with legal mandates and campus policies. The housing and residential life office and the disabled student services office should consider developing specific housing accommodation policies and procedures and making them available to staff and students. Some campuses have a small joint housing and disability committee that considers policy and procedures and reviews exceptional requests on an individual basis. On most campuses, a disabled student services office is responsible for receiving and reviewing disability-related documentation and for determining or recommending accommodations or appropriate adjustments in campus procedures and policies. This office may forward disability verification and specific recommendations to the housing office. Staff should respect a student's privacy with respect to disability-related information whenever possible, sharing information only with those who have a need to know and in compliance with legal mandates and campus policies.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making housing and residential life welcoming and accessible to everyone.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is inclusive of people with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.

Physical Environments and Products

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is inclusive of people with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages. State and federal regulations address most disability access requirements for new housing construction and major renovation projects. Some campus housing programs choose to exceed the requirements in order to provide enhanced maneuvering space in bathrooms and kitchens, as well as kitchen features such as side-by-side refrigerators and stoves with controls on the front edge. Some campuses also provide a greater number of accessible units than the minimum number required by state or federal standards.

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/checkweb.htm for more suggestions.

Staff

Make sure staff are prepared to work with all students and visitors. Housing staff (including resident directors and assistants, custodial and maintenance, food service staff, facility managers, and programming staff) should know how to effectively communicate and work with students who have disabilities. Training can be developed in collaboration with your disabled student services office.

For more information consult the World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design video and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/www.html.

Information Resources and Technology

If residential life uses computers as information resources, ensure that systems employ accessible design, that staff members are aware of accessibility options, and systems are in place to make accommodations.

For more information consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/equal.html.

Emergency Evacuation

Accessible evacuation procedures are a major concern in housing and residential life.

Events

Ensure that everyone can participate in events sponsored by your organization.

Checklist Updates

This checklist was field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html). The results of a nationwide survey to test face-validity of checklist items led to further refinement of the checklist. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu.

Additional Resources

An electronic copy of this publication as well as additional useful brochures can be found at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/. A 14-minute video, Equal Access: Student Services, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. An online version may be freely viewed at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ea_student.html or purchased in DVD format. Permission is granted to reproduce DO-IT videos and publications for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.

The Student Services Conference Room at www.uw.edu/doit/Conf/ includes a collection of documents and videos to help you make student services accessible to everyone. They include checklists for career services, distance learning, computer labs, recruitment and admissions, registration, housing and residential life, financial aid, libraries, tutoring and learning centers, and student organizations. The Student Services Conference Room also includes a searchable Knowledge Base of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices. For more information about applications of universal design consult www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html.

For more information about applications of universal design consult The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide. To receive a 20% discount visit the DO-IT website.

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

DO-IT
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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


Acknowledgment

The contents of this publication and accompanying video were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, # P333A020044. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Copyright © 2012, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2003, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.