Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One lesson that would have been really helpful is learning how to report accessibility issues and ADA access violations, so I’ve created the College O&M series to share my most-used tips and strategies for learning about this topic and others. Here are my tips for learning how to report accessibility issues and ADA compliance issues with campus buildings, targeted at students with vision loss (inclusive of low vision/blind).
My college has several students and staff members with varying degrees of visual impairment, though there are times where accessibility issues that impact how people with visual impairments can navigate campus pop up. While it’s unfair to expect people with disabilities to be accessibility experts or to expect them to provide accessibility knowledge for free all the time, I have found that when I am as specific as possible about accessibility issues on campus, my college is more than happy to work on implementing my proposed solution, or work with me to come up with a different solution if needed.
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Examples of accessibility issues
So what exactly are accessibility issues? For this post, accessibility issues are obstacles or barriers that keep people with visual impairments from accessing a certain place, specifically focusing on physical places or areas. There can also be accessibility issues with accessing software and websites, though that topic will be tackled in a different post.
Examples of accessibility issues that my friends and I have reported in the past include:
- Stairs with poor contrast/no tactile strips
- Lack of a stair-free route to buildings
- No barriers around areas with sharp drops
- Items blocking curb cuts to cross the street
- Issues with campus services, i.e laundry
- Strobe lights in main area of campus
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How to document campus accessibility issues
One of my favorite ways to document campus accessibility issues is by taking pictures and noting the time, date, and location they were taken. Sometimes, my friends will also message me pictures of issues and I request that they include the same information. I’ve found that having a visual when explaining issues is extremely helpful, especially in meetings. Another thing I like to do is edit pictures in PicsArt to show how I see the given obstacle with my visual impairment, or rather how I don’t see it.
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Writing about accessibility issues
In addition to taking pictures, I will include a short summary of the issue along with any ideas I have on how to solve it. For example, I reported an issue with an area on campus that had a sharp drop next to a flight of stairs, and no barrier to keep students with visual impairments from accidentally falling off the edge. My proposed solution was to add a protective barrier so that students wouldn’t fall in the area. I also mentioned that I had almost fallen in this area and shared that another friend had the same experience.
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Finding someone who will listen
Now that you have pictures and a written statement, it’s time to find someone who can listen and address this accessibility issue. I prefer to send information over email so it can be forwarded as needed, and I can easily find staff contact information on university websites. Here are some examples of people to contact about accessibility issues on campus:
- Disability Services
- Assistive technology specialist
- ADA coordinator
- Facilities management
- Parking and transportation (if the issue is about roads)
- Building managers
- Campus offices, if the issue is from a specific department, such as housing or dining
Since I have a strong relationship with the assistive technology department at my college, I typically contact them before reaching out to other offices.
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Meeting with campus staff about accessibility issues
Sometimes, different campus staff members will want to meet with students talking about accessibility issues to learn more about the problems. I have attended many meetings of this type, both in person and over the phone, typically accompanied by one of the assistive technology specialists from my college. During these meetings, I tend to refrain from negative or accusatory language and instead listen to how staff plan to fix this issue or come up with another alternative. I’ll also go over images in greater detail to show why something is an issue if needed, as typically not everyone in the room has seen the images prior to the meeting.
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Following up on reports
Shortly after my meeting with campus staff or after communicating via phone or email about the issue, I will send a follow up message thanking them for their time and request status updates as needed. I try not to send lots of requests for updates as this can be seen as annoying, but if I never hear back from someone I will send a message.
While I haven’t had this experience, if the issue was still not solved I would have contacted my state’s Protection and Advocacy organization for pro bono legal assistance- in Virginia, this organization is the Disability Law Center of Virginia.
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Other tips for reporting accessibility issues with college buildings
- Some colleges have a student organization for students with disabilities that can be a powerful tool for advocacy and getting accessibility issues fixed. For students at George Mason University, there is also a dedicated organization for vision loss called Vision Impaired Patriots.
- Professors are not the most helpful people for getting building issues fixed, as they often don’t have control over where their classes are taught. However, they may be able to put in maintenance requests for their individual classroom if there is an accessibility issue there.
- Need a way to get inside a campus building more easily? Run a web search for an ADA map of the college campus for a list of accessible and stair-free entrances