Since I don’t use traditional mobility aids like a wheelchair or mobility cane full time, it’s difficult for me to get one of the official mobility accessible dorms on my college campus. I’m not complaining about this though, because I’ve been able to come up with lots of solutions that help me hack my own accessible dorm that can accommodate my mobility and balance related deficits associated with Chiari Malformation. Here are my tips for how to hack an accessible dorm and how to make a dorm accessible for chronic pain.
Have the bed adjusted
By default, the beds at my college are raised to be about four and a half feet above the ground. While this is great news for people who want an abundance of storage under their bed, it is less great for people who don’t want to jump in and out of bed or risk falling over. I made a maintenance request my first day back at school for my bed to be adjusted to a lower height and was there for when it was adjusted so that I could decide what height I wanted. It’s much easier to get in bed now, especially since I don’t have to worry about running into the metal frame.
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Get a shower chair
While some dorm showers have a built in shower chair, the dorm I have this year does not. After nearly falling in the shower a few times, I decided to get a shower chair at the local Walgreens that ended up fitting my dorm shower perfectly. I store the chair against a wall in my dorm when not in use and dry it off with a towel when I am finished with it. It might be the smartest thing I’ve bought this year.
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Hang mobility aids in a convenient area
While I do not rely on mobility aids for navigating my dorm, I do have canes that I use when traveling outside. I prefer to hang them near my door so that I can quickly grab them on the way out. This system is especially beneficial when I am leaving my dorm unexpectedly, such as during a fire drill or other evacuation.
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Use a bedrail to help avoid falls
Remember how I mentioned falling out of bed? It’s happened to me quite a few times. One of the things that helps me the most is having a bed rail on my bed so that I don’t have to worry about waking up on the floor. At first, I thought this was a weird thing to bring to college since I hadn’t seen any of my friends with bedrails, but after seeing mine, lots of friends have purchased them to help keep things from falling down.
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Lower the closet rod
My friend has trouble raising their arms to reach items in the closet, so they asked maintenance to lower the rods in their closet so that they would be at an easy to reach level. The closet rods I have can easily be adjusted to accommodate different heights, and I’ve found this super helpful for when I have intense shoulder pain and don’t want to hurt myself by extending my arms. I didn’t buy any special closet rods, these are just the ones that came with my dorm.
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If you can, request a single room
A lot of these accessibility tips can be implemented in any type of dorm, but I’ve found that having my own bedroom (referred to as a single dorm by my college) has helped me tremendously. I have a college housing accommodation that says I need a single room for medical reasons, and I’ve always been able to get a single room by the start of the semester so I don’t have to worry about sharing with a roommate. Students can edit housing accommodations during the school year if needed, though this might mean moving to a new room, floor, or even building with little notice.
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Switch out lighting
The overhead lights can be incredibly harsh and disorienting for people with photosensitivity. Some of my friends have opted to have the lighting switched out in their dorms so that it is less harsh and easier to turn on/off. Instead of switching out light fixtures, my college recommends having desktop lamps that can provide adequate lighting for the room, though certain types of lamps are banned. To make things even easier, I have a remote controlled lamp that I can easily operate from anywhere in my room.
Make sure paths are clear
Having clear pathways to walk in a dorm is critical for ensuring there are no fall hazards. This doesn’t just mean clean floors and doing laundry though. Make sure that chairs are pushed in and that furniture is not protruding into central walkways. And of course, check that there are no cables on the floor too.
Use blackout curtains
I am very sensitive to light, so I have blackout curtains in my dorm that I purchased from Target that can block out a majority of sunlight and lightning. I very rarely open the curtains because my window faces an area with heavy foot traffic, but the curtains are easy to open if needed. Curtains may need to be fire treated every semester or school year depending on school policy- not fire treating my curtains led to me getting a housing violation, so make sure to do this at move-in or early in the semester to avoid any issues.
Other tips for how to hack an accessible dorm
- Switch out the default desk chair for another chair that does not tip over or that is more comfortable to sit in
- Add a standing mat with a thick foam layer in the bathroom or other area where you might stand for long periods of time while getting ready for the day
- Have a mini fridge for storing medication and snacks/small meals for when traveling to the dining hall seems like an impossible task, and don’t forget to have a few ice packs in the freezer
- Space heaters are typically banned from dorms, but small heating pads and heated blankets are not. Check dorm rules before purchasing/bringing any of these items from home