Opinion: Student Disability Services needs to be accessible to everyone

The UI facility’s location at bottom of a staircase in Burge Residence Hall makes it difficult for some students to travel there.


Emily Wangen

The outside of the UI Student Disability Services office is seen on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. The office is located in the basement of Burge Hall.

Ally Pronina, Columnist

Hundreds of University of Iowa students live with disabilities. Many of them are registered with Student Disability Services. This is one of the most important resources for UI students. Whether it’s a mental or physical disability, the UI offers much-needed assistance. However, the office isn’t accessible to everyone, especially those it serves — it’s at the bottom of a staircase.

How do students with limited mobility handle this obstacle? What if someone can’t see the stairs? How can they access Student Disability Services if they experience shortness of breath when using stairs? How can they get up and down the stairs if they use a wheelchair?

As The Daily Iowan reported in 2018, the UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness petitioned for the office to be moved by 2020. The student group’s treasurer Andrea Courtney said the petition received a total of 3,361 signatures from 2,543 undergraduate students, 603 graduate students, and 306 faculty and alums.

Burge Hall has an elevator students with physical disabilities can use to get down to Student Disability Services. However, having gone on a trip to the office using the route students in wheelchairs use, I know they have to go in the back door of the office because there is no elevator that goes to the front.

UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers spoke with the DI Tuesday about the less-than-ideal location of the office. She said there is an idea to have a town hall in the near future to discuss the future of Student Disability Services. She also said there was recently an external program review of the service to further inform the future steps UI officials take with it. 

“We have more data about what [Student Disability Services] will be focusing on and what the scope of their work will be, and that can then help to inform what a space might look like and the timeliness of that space,” Shivers said.

A town hall that includes UI community members is a great idea and can possibly be a model for solving similar problems in the future.

Regardless of what the UI decides to do in the future, there are thousands of Hawkeyes who need a solution sooner. I realize moving the office will require the UI to address questions to which they currently might not have answers. For example, where exactly would the service be moved? It should be placed on the first floor of a building and integrated with the rest of our students, but there isn’t an obvious location. Of course, it’s not as easy as upping the current office and moving it elsewhere, as Shivers acknowledged.

“I’m really interested in, do we want a short-term relocation or do we actually prefer to wait for an ideal location and move once or move twice?” Shivers said. “And so, that’s going to be the conversation that we have. The students have said we want to make sure it’s the right move and that we’re not settling… You want to make sure it moves into a location that is accessible, but also one that can help to meet the needs of the community. “

UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness President Kaydee Ecker had two suggestions. There is an empty lot across from the Pappajohn Business Building. Ecker said another option is to have Student Disability Services put in place of the Communications Center, which is slated to be demolished.

There are reasons beyond safety and practicality for moving Student Disability Services. During On Iowa, I was told “all are welcome” at the UI. Students with disabilities would feel more welcomed if the people and resources they need weren’t in a basement.

The UI must find a way to move Student Disability Services so students with physical disabilities can access the office easier. The UI should pay for moving it if it will make students with all types of disabilities feel more welcomed and receive more services. Students with disabilities pay as much tuition   as other students and deserve to get their money’s worth.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.