New Mobility has released the most comprehensive college guide for wheelchair users ever created. Wheels on Campus identifies 20 schools that go beyond the letter of the law to create wheelchair-friendly campuses and cultures for a truly inclusive college experience.
“The culture of inclusion can be extremely different at different institutions,” says project director Jean Dobbs. “We wanted to find those gems, those schools that really go above and beyond to say, ‘Your wheelchair is welcome here, your service dog is welcome here, you are welcome here.’”
Starting with a list of 400 colleges and universities highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report, researchers sent out an exacting survey to disability service offices throughout the United States. Respondents were scored on 45 criteria specific to wheelchair-using students, including wheelchair-friendly campus terrain, percentage of independently-accessible buildings, integrated accessible housing options, personal assistance programs, adaptive sports and recreation, accessible on-campus transportation, adaptive computer labs, inclusive fraternities and sororities and more.
“It’s not just about buildings and accommodations,” says Thomas Webb, disability services director at Wright State University, one of the top schools in the guide. “We want to build a culture, and the Americans with Disabilities Act is just a building block, a kind of foundation.”
Allison Thompkins, an MIT graduate and quadriplegic wheelchair user, knows how important this attitude can be. “For someone with my complicated level of disability to excel academically and be fully immersed in the life of an institution, universities must be committed to providing extra support services that aren’t required by law.”
To verify survey results that indicated a truly wheelchair-friendly culture, Wheels on Campus sent wheelchair-using reporters to perform personal tours and inspections and interview students and staff on several campuses. When the pandemic complicated that process, reporters confirmed survey results with extensive phone interviews and online research in combination with their personal experience.
“A welcoming atmosphere is so important to college success,” says Wheels on Campus editor Tim Gilmer, a wheelchair user since he was a student at UCLA decades ago. “It is our fervent hope that this unique guide will prove to be a useful and encouraging evaluative tool for prospective and existing college students of all ages and abilities.”
Wheels on Campus, funded by a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, is available as a free download at www.newmobility.com/wheels-on-campus.
Top photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin, Whitewater