Fighting for Accessible Housing as a Disabled College Student
“Your Voice Matters” read the subject line of an email I received from the Executive Director of Residential Living and Learning at Stetson University. Your voice matters. The only thing I can think of when reading this subject line is, “Until it doesn’t.” You see as a student living on campus with a physical disability, I’ve been made fully aware that my voice does not matter. It is my third semester as a student at Stetson University and I have yet to receive accessible housing. When I transferred here I was promised an accessible campus. What happened was quite the opposite.
When you first log on to their website, as one would do as a prospective student, you’ll see many statements on inclusion. “Student Life is all about you. Our inclusive environment welcomes you, and we are excited about how we can learn and grow together.” Then again on a page about Inclusive Excellence, it says, “The foundational priority of Stetson University’s 2014-2019 Strategic Plan is to “Be a Diverse Community of Inclusive Excellence.” Well it is 2019 and I am being denied accessible housing. This isn’t exactly what I would consider a welcoming environment or a community of Inclusive Excellence. Rather I would consider myself to be quite excluded.
After being placed in regular housing without accommodations for the past two semesters I have learned to accept my fate of taking whatever is given to me. I currently reside off campus which you might think would solve the problem, but again this was a fight. The school saw me as a paycheck of $1,820.50 to be specific. By letting me move off campus they would be losing that money, but I would finally be getting the accessible housing I needed. Only the college didn’t see it that way. They said I had denied the accessible housing they offered and that it was my choice, or my personal favorite was that I didn’t complain enough. I had constant communication with what my needs were and they had them on record. I wasn’t aware that I needed to “complain more” in order to receive the housing they were legally required to provide me by law.
After investigating their criteria that would be considered when evaluating housing accommodation requests, I found this:
A. Has the student provided adequate documentation from their professional health care provider?
B. Does the documentation clearly articulate the need for this housing accommodation with supporting information?
C. Was the request made prior to the priority deadline? All forms must be received by the priority deadlines
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, I had provided a note from my physician stating my disability. Yes, the documentation clearly articulated my need for accommodations as I am a student living with a below the knee amputation. Yes, the request was submitted prior to the deadline. All of the criteria had been met, yet here I am still trying to find somewhere accessible to live next year. I have spoken to multiple faculty members about my situation and they both told me, “Well you are asking for a lot.” I am asking for a room on the first floor, with laundry on the first floor, central on campus, and to live alone. This seems like basic needs to me, yet the school says they can’t meet them or that the only place that meets my needs is an apartment. However, the apartments cost a significant amount more to live in and are on the edge of campus, a 15-minute walk to any class.
So if you were to ask me what it’s like to live on an accessible campus, I’d have to tell you I’m not living on one. Rather I’m living on an ableist campus that sees me as a paycheck rather than a human being with a disability who has actual needs. If I was asked if I thought that my voice actually mattered my answer would be no. I’ve been trying to have my voice heard for three semesters now with no effect.
To those who can relate to this: your voice matters to me, and you should keep on fighting. I am now a senior and it’s my last year so it doesn’t matter for me at this point, but I’m still fighting the system because I know there are other students who won’t say anything. So if you’re one of them, speak up. Let you voice be heard. Let your presence be known, because guess what? Your Voice Matters.
Photo via Stetson University.