In spite of federal and state legislation aimed at removing barriers to people with mental as well as physical disabilities, finding a truly barrier-free school that will fully accommodate a student with disabilities is not easy. During a recent visit to a top Ivy League university, I had to trudge up two flights of narrow stairs to reach the student counseling services office.
Indeed, there are not even plans in the works to redesign the building. According to a June 22, 2000, article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, speakers at a presidential summit on helping disabled students make the transition to college and careers declared that the federal government and higher education officials need to do a better job of informing disabled people about how to succeed in college, and institutions should do more to help their students get jobs after graduation.
The article quotes Judith E. Heumann, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, as saying that although more disabled students have been enrolling in college, they are not graduating at the same rate as their nondisabled peers.
One of the recommendationsthat came out of the meeting was the creation of an information clearinghouse on college admissions for disabled students. Although matters are improving for disabled students as old campus buildings are renovated and new ones are built to comply with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many campuses remain downright hostile to disabled students.
Only through a visit to the campus or by reviewing a thorough audit by a disability watchdog group can parents and students determine whether a campus will be right for the student. Moreover, while litigating for compliance with the ADA is essential, the high costs of legal representation often associated with being the test case plaintiff in the litigation is generally not appealing.
With more schools coming into compliance with the ADA, most parents and students may do better moving onto a campus that has already recognized the need and legal responsibility it owes to all of its students, staff, and employees.