Nana and Engineering: A Case Study on Accommodating Mobility Impairments

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Background

My name is Nana. I'm a second-year student at a small, private four-year engineering/technical college, with engineering as my major. I have quadriplegia and use a power wheelchair for mobility. I have enough use of my hands to write and use a standard computer keyboard and mouse.

Access Issue

I needed to take an engineering CAD (computer-assisted design) course, but after registering for the class, I found out that the computer lab classroom for this specific course was located on the top floor of the engineering building, and the building elevator does not go to the top floor. I checked the schedule of classes, but it was the only section of this course being taught that semester. My faculty advisor said it would be offered again next semester but in the same classroom. I needed to take it in the current year, because it was a prerequisite for other required courses I had to take in my senior year.

Solution

The advisor talked to the dean of students, who was also the disabled student counselor, and the three of us met to discuss the problem. The engineering department indicated it would not be possible to relocate that computer lab classroom because of scheduling and space limitations. The college physical plant department assessed the building and said it was not technically feasible to install a stair lift in the old, narrow stairways and that it would take at least three to four years to develop plans and secure funding for renovation of the building and elevator. I told them I did not want to be lifted up and down the stairway in my wheelchair. They felt that it was very important for me to be in the classroom to participate in all the discussions and to do the work with other students so that the instructor could help me as I went along in the class with the CAD. The advisor and dean of students felt that I should be able to take the course in the current year.

There were several additional meetings, and the faculty advisor suggested they look into having the class taught at a local community college just down the road, where a similar course and software were available in an accessible classroom. The dean of students said they could schedule the CAD course the next semester at the community college. This solution was acceptable to me, and I could use my lift-equipped van for transportation to the class. My college contracted with the community college to use the space and computers so that the instructor in my engineering department could teach the course as he was already scheduled to do.

Conclusion

This example illustrates the following:

  1. Creative and effective solutions to physical access problems can be found so that students with disabilities can participate.
  2. A key ADA/Section 504 requirement of providing "program access" when physical barriers are present can be achieved with careful planning and research.
  3. The solution benefited the student and the institution. The student completed the course in the same year, and he was able to attend and participate like other students. The institution met its program access requirement in a timely manner. The student's needs and preferences (e.g., not wanting to be lifted up and down stairs, needing to take the course in the current year) can be met in a timely manner.
  4. Academic requirements and the instructor's course design features (e.g., student participation in the lecture and discussion portions of the class, the instructor being able to see the student's work in the computer lab) did not have to be modified.

Last update or review: January 23, 2013