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6 Ways Colleges Could Accommodate People With Chronic Illness Better

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After having to take time off to get a diagnosis for and to treat a chronic illness, part of me feels scared to back to university, especially because I am transferring to a new school where I know nobody. Frankly, I am someone who is naturally an anxious person and an over-thinker, so things that are stressful cause me to have severe anxiety.

Recently, I wrote down the list of my fears to try and figure out if there were underlying issues and ways to try and solve them. All my fears could be solved by one thing: improved accessibility. Here is a list of six ways that I think universities could try and accommodate students with chronic illness better.

1. Teach professors to not assume that everyone is able-bodied.

Professors can have a major impact on their students’ university experience, so their inclusivity is important. Unfortunately, I have felt excluded at times, including during certain ice breakers that professors have introduced. Ice breakers can be a fun way to get to know each other in seminars, but they can also be exclusive and difficult for students with chronic illness who have impaired mobility, whether the student walks with a mobility device or not. Implementing an inclusive environment makes students feel welcome in courses, and this includes professors making sure activities and classwork are accessible.

2. Encourage faculty and students to not wear scented products.

As a person with an autoimmune disease, it’s safe to say I do not have the strongest immune system. When I am around someone who wears a lot of perfume, I have to move, or my symptoms could worsen. Faculty and students should be encouraged to not wear scented products in order to not possibly make some of their classmates more sick.

3. Have a simple, quick process for students to register with disability services.

Trying to manage a chronic illness while being a university student is difficult enough, so universities really need to step up in making accommodations more accessible. This includes creating a simple, quick process for students to register with disability services. At my previous universities, the wait to interview with someone who worked with disability services in order to be processed could take up to six weeks, which is not fair for students.

4. Allow students with chronic illness to have more flexibility with class attendance.

Many universities have policies which state that students can have excused medical absences, but they have to have a medical note. The issue for people like me with chronic illnesses is that the costs of having to get these notes add up, as I would either have to pay a co-pay to see a doctor to write one for me or go to the ER, which would be even more expensive. Not to mention that this can take time away from when I could be resting, so that I am able to recover from a flare more quickly.

5. Have the classrooms be accessible.

Classrooms on the fourth floor of an old building that do not have an elevator, heating, or air conditioning are nearly or completely impossible for students with limited mobility. My chronic illness, vasculitis, also tends to flare when it is extremely hot or cold, so having a heater for when it’s cold, and AC for when it’s hot, allows me to be an engaged learner while in class.

6. Host working groups and forums where students with chronic illness can give feedback.

No one knows what is best for chronically ill university students in this day and age better than current students who are chronically ill. The administration and disability services should be active in providing spaces for students with chronic illness to give feedback, whether through a monthly meeting or through an online forum.

Getty photo by SeventyFour

Originally published: August 5, 2018
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