Colleges and universities must provide accessible housing for students with disabilities, both in long-term and short-term situations. Sometimes the demand for accessible housing exceeds the supply.
The crunch for accessible living space is truly being felt this year at Macalester College in St. Paul as student demands for accessible housing rise. According to Residential Life Operational Manager Kathy McEathron, there has been a dramatic increase in athletic and summer injuries requiring specialized housing.
Last year and this year, McEathron explained, there have been more requests for accessible space than ever before. The college does provide permanent accessible housing but has been challenged in finding more temporary quarters for students.
Accessible space is generally defined as wheelchair-friendly living quarters, with a bathroom closed off to the exterior hallway. Features like automatic door openers, accessible door handles, and wide hallways are also associated with accessible living. Only a few spots on campus meet these criteria, a double in Kirk Hall, a room in Turck Hall, one room in a George Draper Dayton Hall suite and a room in the Grand Cambridge Apartments—though regular rooms can sometimes be modified for easier accessibility.
One story epitomizing the shortage is that of Julia Egan ’13 and her roommate, who were both hit by cars this summer while living on campus.”I was going to be on crutches, but I wanted to be able to make it to class,” said Egan, who Macalester Residential Life promptly placed in an accessible living space. “I felt really supported by the college.”
The roommates, however, were recently given a four-day notice to vacate the room.
“When they moved us in, they said there was a small chance we might have to move,” Egan said. She went on to describe a series of emails she received this semester. According to Egan, the emails began by asking questions like ‘Will you need this room next semester?’ and ‘Do you need it now?’
Then, on the weekend of Nov. 5, Egan received an email saying that someone was having surgery and might need the room. It wasn’t until the next Tuesday, Nov. 8, that she got the email telling her that someone else would definitely be moving into the room—and to be out by Friday.
After being on crutches for three months, Egan can now walk normally but is still recovering. “My roommate’s in a boot,” Egan said, “How is she supposed to move her things?”
Egan’s case is a prime example of simply not having enough appropriate rooms on campus.
According to McEathron, general overcrowding has not been an issue this year. With a total campus capacity of 1,296, Mac currently houses 1,246 students. “We can, but it’s not just about filling beds,”
McEathron said. “We want to give students that feeling of community, that Macalester is a nice place to live.”
For the last two years, Macalester has had to dip into overflow housing in Turck and forced triples in Dupre to house its freshman class, but this year’s smaller class fits more comfortably.
“I think the remodeling of the music building might make this year feel overcrowded,” says McEathron, referring to the music practice spaces displaced to Turck and Dayton.
“When you have groups practicing in your residence hall, it feels like a lot more going on with people coming and going.”
But demand for accessible rooms is a completely different story.
“It’s a big investment to the college to build these spaces,” McEathron said, explaining that increasing the amount of accessible space on campus is always considered while remodeling.
Egan says she understands the bind that the college is in, but still feels inconvenienced.
“I know that they’re trying to help everyone, and that they’re trying to do the best they can,” Egan said,“but the second you’re not on crutches … it’s frustrating.”
This article originally appeared in the Mac Weekly, newspaper of Macalester College in St. Paul. It is reprinted with permission.