Housing Accommodations at All Time High

Drew Kaplan ’20, Editor-In-Chief

Students have expressed mixed feelings on the system by which students receive housing accommodations. According to Dean of Access & Disability Services (ADS) and Strategies, Organization, and Achievement Resources (SOAR) Marni Jones, while the college has seen an increase in the number of students who have been accommodated on the basis of a disability, each of these accommodation grants follows a set series of criteria “on the basis of a documented need due to a substantially limiting disability,” she said.

Olivia Greenleaf ’20 said “I think accommodations is a very wonky system; in my experience what is the accommodation sometimes isn’t even delivered upon, and when we want to fix it we get sent through the loop that is admin. Its great in theory, less so in practice.” 

Shelby Ting ’21, however, described the process as “straightforward and easy and fine” in submitting the necessary paperwork and receiving approval. 

Jones explained that, currently, there are roughly 400 students receiving accommodations of all forms from ADS, with roughly another 70 requests under review, or awaiting additional documentation. Jones continued that around 25 percent of accommodations granted are for housing. However, Jones noted that “The majority of housing accommodations granted were for access to air conditioning, which does not impact a student’s participation in the lottery.”

There are different conditions that require accommodations for student housing. “Students might have mobility impairments, requiring a first floor room or housing in a building with an elevator, they may have medical conditions requiring close proximity to a bathroom, they may have a sleep disorder, such as narcolepsy or sleep apnoea, necessitating a single, and many other possibilities,” Jones said. Jones also explained that there are students who have different allergies and are granted rooms to help prevent more health issues. “In many of these cases, the suitable accommodation would be to ensure that the student’s room on campus is not carpeted, is not at or below the ground floor, and/or has air conditioning beyond when others may no longer need it,” Jones said.

Assistant Director of Residence Life & Housing Sage Ober explained that while “Residence Life & Housing is required to work with a student to meet the accommodations a student has been approved for,” Residence Life & Housing is not involved in the granting of accommodations to students, and they accommodate those students already approved by ADS. 

Jones noted that more students are receiving accommodations than in past, an increase in part due to “an increase in the number of students who have felt comfortable disclosing a disability,” she said. When applying for a housing accommodation, Jones explained that students must submit a college form outlining the request, “supporting documentation” from “their care provider,” and a “disability documentation form” which reports the nature of the medical condition, its symptoms, and explains the connection of those symptoms to the requested accommodation. “A student with a disability who requests an accommodation must provide documentation that not only substantiates a bona fide disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Jones said, “but also documentation that clearly demonstrates how the student’s disability impairs their ability to reside in a standard housing assignment, and that a housing accommodation is substantiated as a necessity.” 

Jones explained that requests which either lack the necessary documentation, or where the condition in consideration is not sufficient, housing accommodations are not granted. She continued that accommodations are not granted where standard college housing is suitable to meet the needs of students, and in cases where the accommodation requested is construed as a preference, rather than a requirement. She explained that a “common example [of a housing preference requested as an accommodation] would be that a student with ADHD would prefer a single room, free from the distractions of roommates. Because there are ample locations on campus that provide distraction-free study spaces, housing in a single would not be an appropriate accommodation.” 

Some students are supportive of the current accommodation system. Jillian Paige ’21 said “people who need housing accommodations apply because they have a legit concern. […] Being able to receive them is a huge comfort.”

Others, however, note that while housing accommodations are well intentioned, the system suffers from issues in implementation, both in how accommodations are granted, and potential ways the system may be abused. Cassie Teschner ’20 said that the system of granting accommodations works well but that ADS should give “students who need access to the temperature controls free access instead of making them file a work order for every temperature change.”

Natalie Ginez ’21 shared the same sentiments as Teschner that the housing accommodation system is “well intended” but it can be “easlily manipulated.” “People who don’t have a disability are able to fake having one in order to be able to get a single in a dorm or an apartment,” Ginez said, “This manipulation takes away the ability of someone who is truly disabled, either mentally or physically, to get the accommodation that they need.”

Jones explained that the college complies with the American Disabilities Act to ensure that services are accessible to all students. “The majority of students who are requesting housing accommodations are likely facing challenges that are serious and difficult,” she said, “Our obligation is to ensure that housing accommodations provide students with equitable access to life at a residential college by being able to live on campus with their peers.”