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Despite some challenges, Residence Life seeks to accommodate to students with physical disabilities

Making students comfortable is a multi-faceted process

Otterbein Residence Life has many ways to help students with physical disabilities, including collaborating with other departments to ensure that all students are comfortable living on campus.

Tracy Benner, Director of Residence Life, said that housing accommodations are available to students with diagnosed disabilities to ensure that they are comfortable. "It's really case by case trying to make sure that whatever they need as an accommodation is available." 

Benner also said that some accommodations are not available in every dormitory, so there are certain dorms that students with disabilities may not be able to live in. 

"For example, if you live in Mayne Hall on the fourth floor, and stairs are an issue, it's like well, we can't have you live in Mayne Hall on the fourth floor, because there's no way to get there without stairs," she said. "So that might mean that you have to live on the first floor, or that might mean if you're a male student, this year, that you wouldn't live in that building because we don't have everything everywhere."

When it comes to accommodations, Residence Life and Disability Services work closely to ensure that students who need housing are placed in the dorm that works best for them.

"Most accommodations are covered by the typical accommodations request form, so they get that, they work with their medical professional on filling that out, that gets sent to me, and then I send it to disability services for review," Benner said. "Disability services will talk with the student if they have questions about the form, or if they need more information, and then they'll give me a recommendation [on where the student will be placed]."

Benner will then look at what Residence Life has to offer, and afterward will reach back out to Disability Services to make sure the room is what the student is looking for. "Sometimes there's a little back-and-forth [with Disability Services] if the student says 'that's not what I wanted exactly.' Okay, well, let's get that clarified with Disability Services," she said. 

Students with disabilities are allowed to make temporary alterations to their dorm rooms. Whether that be a shower head replacement, a seat in a shower, or even allowing a student to supply their own bed, these are accommodations that Residence Life is able to make.

"Sometimes there are times when we can alter something about a space[...]. I think about this one student who had back issues, and so we took the bed out of the room and they could bring in their own bed," Benner said. 

Resident assistants are another aspect of housing for disabled students. As student staff members of Residence Life, they make sure students feel like a part of a community in the dorm halls and help them feel comfortable living on campus. Benner said that while she hopes RAs know how to use inclusive language, it is up to the student with the disability to disclose their condition to the RAs if they wish.

"We won't require hall staff to be trained," Benner said. However, one year, RAs were trained to use EpiPens when a resident carried one. 

"It's all about really the person with a disability saying 'I'd like people to know this about me'. We don't say 'hey this person has a disability'," she said. "It's also that person's medical information, and it's up to them if they want to tell anybody." 

Benner also discussed the possibility of further renovations to the dorm halls. "I tend to think 'how can we make the facilities better in a way that everyone can just use, like the Hanby [Hall] ramp'," she said. "I think at the time when they were designing residence halls in the 1950s, they weren't thinking about [disabilities], they designed it for what they were thinking of what a college student would look like, and that's changed."

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