The Importance of Disability Awareness on College Campuses

Megan Wagner and RJ Kilgore, part of the Academic Support team at the JWU Charlotte Campus, share the university's focus on providing an exceptional education for every student.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in every four adults in the United States lives with some form of disability. Similarly, approximately 20% of enrolled undergraduate students in the United States report having a disability. As the Americans with Disabilities Act reaches almost 33 years of existence, the need for greater inclusion and accessibility on college campuses remains prevalent. Not all college campuses and curriculums were built with disability in mind, and as a result, students with disabilities can face barriers to accessing equal education alongside their non-disabled peers. Institutions can make campuses more accessible by creating accommodations to policies and programs that prioritize equal access to all students.

Three members of the JWU Academic Success teamJWU Charlotte accessibility team (left to right): RJ Kilgore, director of academic support; Megan Wagner, academic support advisor; Stephanie Moore, administrative assistant.

At Johnson & Wales University, we believe in creating an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and accessible to all individuals. We believe equitable access is the foundation of the JWU experience and strive to meet this goal through collaboration with students, faculty and other key stakeholders to ensure every member of our campus community is provided with the tools they need to succeed. For disabled students, this often means creating accommodations to current policies and procedures to allow those students to confidently access their learning environment alongside their peers.

How JWU Supports Students

Accommodations at JWU are as diverse as the students receiving them. However, some examples of accommodations provided include equitable testing accommodations—such as allowing appropriate adjustments to time limits, providing a space that reduces distractions and offering testing in an alternate format. We also promote accessibility communication across all aspects of campus life, including offering ASL interpreting in the classroom, student organization meetings, social gatherings and any other area that a student may need.

To truly pinpoint where the barriers to access are and how we can resolve them, JWU Charlotte’s Accessibility Services Office, housed within the Academic Success Center, starts each request for accommodations with a personal conversation with the student. This interactive process allows us to hear the student’s perspectives on their disability and offer suggestions on ways to increase accessibility across campus. That first-person feedback, combined with medical documentation and input from faculty, if needed, provides our office with a clear idea of what is required to ensure each student has equal access to their learning environments.

Why Accessibility Matters on College Campuses

Colleges that prioritize having an accessibility mindset see overall improvements in student experience, recruitment and retention. The Academic Success Center has created a curriculum to educate faculty and staff on the importance of accessibility, which allows them to implement simple strategies to ensure equal access.

Classroom shot of several studentsAccessibility improves the learning experience for all students.

Additionally, students of all abilities can benefit from an environment exercising an accessibility-first approach. For instance, when creating an online-learning portal that is accessible to students who have visual impairments or dyslexia, students without these impairments will benefit from the organized, clean layout of the site as well. Moreover, when physical space is built to be inclusive of all abilities, those without disabilities benefit too. Curb cuts designed for wheelchair users can also make life easier for parents with strollers, professors pushing carts of classroom supplies or bikers needing to get onto the sidewalk quickly and safely.

Read More >>> 7 JWU Support Services that Every Student Should Utilize

Leading Change

Our goal at JWU is to welcome all students onto campus and for them to feel a part of our community. To continue our efforts to reach this goal, the university hosted the 2022 North Carolina Association for Higher Education and Disability conference, a statewide event that welcomes educators to share in collective thought on how to increase the offerings to the disabled. Disability advocates from schools across the state collaborated to provide the framework and networking needed to adapt more inclusive policies and procedures. Experts in the field of disability law and colligate disability services also presented on relevant topics that are affecting the field and students on college campuses.

Hosting this annual event demonstrates JWU’s commitment to our mission of providing an exceptional education to all students. By investing in conferences like this one, as well as our strategies, JWU continues to expand its accessibility offerings to ensure all students have a great college experience.

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