Opening Doors to Solutions: A Case Study on Self-Advocacy

DO-IT Factsheet #421
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?421

Background

My name is Harry. I attend my local community college. I use an electric wheelchair because I have a physical disability. I would like to use the new gym facility on campus a few times a week to swim. Swimming is one of the best ways for me to maintain my upper body strength.

Access Issue

A new recreation center was recently completed on campus with a pool. I was excited to begin using this new facility. It was so convenient. Unfortunately, I found that the entrance to the locker room had no electric door opener and, from a sitting position, I was unable to reach the door handle and negotiate the entrance with my wheelchair. I felt stuck. I was stuck. Luckily the people entering behind me helped with the door. But I knew I wouldn't always be able to count on someone being around to let me in or out of the locker room.

Solution

Later that day, I approached the Director of the Recreation Center. I explained my situation and suggested the installation of an electric door opener. She said she would alert the appropriate department. I was skeptical. However, in about two weeks there were electric door openers on both the male and female locker rooms. This modification allowed me independent access and benefited others who faced similar barriers as well.

The Director flagged me down a few months later. She thanked me for my handling of the situation and mentioned that the planning committee took this oversight seriously.

Conclusion

This case study illustrates the following:

  1. It is important for people with disabilities to point out features that are inaccessible. The person with a disability is often the best resource for identifying and solving access problems.
  2. Addressing accessibility issues for one student with a disability can benefit others.
  3. Accessibility improvements can be made when the campus community realizes the importance of considering accessibility in planning and review committees.