Finding a Universally Designed University

Friendly Wheels, Issue 55
September 2012

Featuring Amigo owner Melissa Nicholson, Aurora, Ill.

For those with limited mobility, preparing to return to school or start at a new one may require doing some homework before you even start.

Before choosing a school for yourself or a loved one who has limited mobility, it is important to make sure the school will accommodate your needs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures that people with disabilities are entitled to "reasonable accommodations" during all levels of schooling. Meeting with school representatives and teachers before classes start will allow them to prepare any accommodations you will need and help make your first day worry free.

We searched our family of Amigo owners for someone who is an expert at maneuvering classes with limited mobility, and found one in Amigo owner Melissa Nicholson.

Melissa has dwarfism, which makes her bones shorter than the average person, and is beginning her last semester at Aurora University in Aurora, Ill. She has been using a mobility device to help her get around since the second grade!

Melissa agrees that pre-planning is an important part in the process of choosing a school. "I met with the disability coordinator at a few universities before making my choice," Melissa said. "I wanted to make sure the school I attended would work with me and be able to meet my needs."

Melissa also attended Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., where she received her Associates Degree in Social Science in 2009.

"It is important to stay in contact with the school's disability coordinator or disability services office. New needs that you didn't think of may pop up throughout the year - for example, elevators or automatic doors may be out of service - and it's important to know who to contact to help you stay on schedule," Melissa said.

Here are a few more "study tips" to help you prepare for the school year from the article 10 Tips for Navigating College Campuses with a Physical Disability:

  • Get to know the campus. Each building may present a unique accessibility challenge, so it is wise to do a test run before your first day of class. Be sure to consider restrooms, parking, elevators, lockers and eateries. If you live in a colder climate, be sure to consider how snow and ice may affect your day.
  • Have a transportation plan. On larger campuses, you may need to consider how you'll get from building to building. Ask if there is a van service available for students with disabilities, or see if public transportation options are accessible for you.
  • Find a routine that works for you. For example, maybe you find it helpful to arrive early to class so you can choose a seat near the door and avoid busy halls and aisle ways.
  • Get to know your instructor. You are your best advocate when it comes to your needs. If you have motor impairments that make it difficult to write or raise your hand, work with your instructor on a plan that works for both of you.
  • Enjoy yourself! School is as much about personal development as it is about homework and getting good grades. Get involved in student groups, programs or clubs so you can meet people who share your interests.

As she begins her last semester of school, Melissa is looking forward to completing her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work and will graduate in December of this year. "I want to be a social worker because I enjoy helping people," Melissa said. "I love talking to people, and if there is any way that I can help them deal with their problems, I am happy to help them through it."


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