There was a time in the U.S. when only young men acquired college educations. Throughout the 19th century, it was highly unusual to see female students on most U.S. college campuses. Young women continued to be the minority on campuses well into the first half of the 20th century. Then, the proportion shifted, and women became the dominant gender in college. Today, no one gives a second glance at a female student on campus.
If college and university administration members make small changes on campus then this kind of inclusivity can occur for disabled students too. Here are some helpful suggestions that can help everyone feel welcomed and included.
Feature Students with Disabilities in Promotional Materials
Representation matters. Remind your college’s marketing and communications department to include students of all abilities when assembling students for photo sessions. These images on your website and pictures in brochures promote campus inclusivity to high school juniors and seniors. Make sure they include photos of your students who are differently abled. Inclusive photos demonstrate that students of all abilities are welcome.
Make Campus Accessibility Hassle-Free
Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990, public and private colleges and universities must provide equal access to post-secondary education for students with disabilities. However, just because colleges are not outright discriminating against disabled students doesn’t mean that campuses are easy to navigate or that classes are user-friendly.
For example, there are stately university campuses that pride themselves on their iconic brick surroundings. These colleges might still use walkways constructed of brick pavers instead of replacing them with wider, smoother, wheelchair-friendly concrete walks. For able-bodied students, those brick paths are barely noticeable. For wheelchair-user students, those bumpy, uneven pavers can make someone late for class.
In classroom settings, teachers should include verbal descriptions of visual aids for sight-impaired students. When showing videos, make sure they are captioned for the hearing impaired. Reading the text, in addition to hearing it, even helps those students who are not hearing impaired to retain class information.
Offer Club Sports for All Abilities
Many college campuses host club sports leagues composed of organized teams that gather for friendly games of supervised, refereed competition. They include single-gender and co-ed team lineups. If your college provides green space for softball and gym time for basketball, ask if it also can include opportunities for disabled and mixed-ability club sports, such as wheelchair basketball or water polo.
Avoid Ableist Language
You can recruit students to your school without using ableist language. “Stand tall,” “Walk proudly,” and “Take the first step” can easily be replaced in promotional materials with equally powerful phrases, such as “Be proud” and “This is your time!”
Incorporate Opportunities for Feedback
Listen to what your disabled students are saying. Do they have a forum for contacting the provost or other campus administration member with their requests for accommodation, their suggestions or feedback? If not, set up a means of communication and open dialogue.
All Students Can Enjoy the Full College Experience
Take the time and make the effort to examine your campus and discover what can be improved for the next generation of thinkers who ambulate, see, or hear differently than others. Your entire student body, faculty, and staff can benefit from this inclusion.
Author bio: Amy I. Stickel is Communications Manager & Creative Writer at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, where she develops content for web-based and print publications. Before coming to Trinity, she served as an editor and writer for the pharmaceutical and legal industries. Stickel has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.