While college campuses are required by law to meet a baseline of mobile and mental accessibilities for all students, it’s common to find that many campuses don’t measure up as well as others when it comes to how accessible they are. Any student, especially one with a physical or mental disability, deserves to experience college in the same way that a non-disabled individual would. When the school does not hear their voice, they may need help from you or your peers to amplify it. Discover the ways you can be an ally for college campus accessibility and advocate for the accessibility issues you may not have known existed until now.
Your best resource for knowing the areas of the school that may be difficult, or even dangerous, for those with mobility issues is by listening to students with disabilities. They may be friends or strangers, but if you hear something then it is most likely worth looking into. It could be that a professor is strict on late arrivals to class even when the only easily accessible route to class is an icy pathway on a steep hill, or even something that sounds so simple as a full elevator causing problems for your peers with mobility disabilities. Have empathy and understand that what may sound like a simple issue can have huge consequences for anyone with a disability.
As you’re listening, you can be the one to tell them that they’re in the right and that they should bring the issue up with administration if they want to. If they just want to vent their frustration, consider their wishes, but remember how they felt in that moment. If a problem happens again, be ready to speak out. Whether you notice problematic peers, professors, or administration, you may need to be prepared to defend a peer with a disability that may not be present to defend themselves.
There are many reasons why a peer with a physical or mental disability would request your assistance, and if they ask then you should try to help. Issues can occur anywhere around campus where you may be a passerby. You may also learn things about the campus that a new student with a disability may not know, such as whether the school has accessible parking permits for commuter students with disabilities or uncommon shortcuts around school. Educating yourself on your school’s policies is an important way you can be an ally for college campus accessibility and improve your leadership skills.
Remember, being an ally doesn’t mean that you fight others’ battles—just that you’re there to back them up when they need the extra help. Always speak up against hurtful language or uneducated assumptions, even in casual conversation. If you see something, say something.