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Sharps containers, notification of accessibility issues are positive steps toward inclusivity

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa is becoming more conscientious of students’ diverse needs.

Two measures that have gained notice in recent weeks are making campus friendlier to people with health conditions. The UI is installing sharps-disposal containers in the restrooms of each campus building in July. And, recently, UI Facilities Management officials created a listserv to notify people of temporary barriers to accessibility.

While these changes may seem minor, they represent a greater, praiseworthy integration of people with disabilities into the community.

The listserv of barriers to accessibility covers everything from construction work to closed sidewalks to sidelined elevators, all of which can prove problematic for people with mobility or visual disabilities. For people who use wheelchairs or other mobility-assistive technology, path obstruction and the roughness of construction can render routes impassable; whole communities on the Internet exist to document examples of “accessibility failure.” Providing people with advance warning allows them to plot alternate routes, saving both time and energy — the latter is particularly concerning for people with fatigue or pain symptoms on top of mobility disabilities.

The UI is not alone among public universities in offering real-time notification of obstruction or closings. Cathy Trueba, the University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant dean for Student Services and the McBurney Disability Resource Center director, told the DI Editorial Board Wednesday that Madison has had a similar system for the five years she’s held her position.

“Accessibility is being built into the fabric of campus life,” she said. “That’s a subtle reminder that the community is very diverse.”

The coming sharps containers are another accommodation for students who need injection medication for health conditions. Diabetics or those on steroid medications don’t always have a sharps container on hand, and carrying around used needles for a whole day — or tossing them into an unsuitable receptacle — represents a not inconsequential hazard. The DI reported Wednesday that campus officials have heard stories of unprotected needles in trash bags, which is a safety threat to campus workers. The sharps containers are a quiet nod to people’s needs.

This initiative was spearheaded by students involved with Student Disability Services, who suggested it in February, and they will see the fruits of their labors in July, five months later. The sharps containers will cost the school $9,000 — small change compared with the UI’s total budget. (The construction and disruption notification system will not cost any significant amount of money, either.)

Universities across the country are looking into accessibility on campus, and for good reason. Qualified students come to college with many different physical needs; as schools come up with ways of accommodating all of these at once, the differences are no longer disabling.

“Door openers don’t stand out anymore as being about disabilities,” Trueba said. In most people’s minds, “they’re about access.” Which is how it should be: equivalent access, regardless of disability, to important public spaces.

The UI’s latest initiatives are a welcome step toward this ideal.


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