Going to college is a major life change for anyone, and it may present an especially daunting challenge for wheelchair users. Yet students who use wheelchairs frequently report they can usually find their way around accessibility problems. The main issue, they say, is figuring out how to make the “back to school” transition.
The back-school-article, which is featured in the latest issue of “New Mobility” magazine, was written by FacingDisability’s Executive Producer, Stephanie Lollino. It focuses on how students with SCI prepare themselves to attend a college or university whether they’re staying in town, or attending a school hundreds of miles from home.
“Once you’ve set the goal that you’re going to do it,” says Kris Cichowski, founding director of the LIFE Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, “make sure you’re medically ready. Do you have your care down? And maybe that doesn’t mean you do it yourself, but can you instruct other people? Have you put yourself out in the community? Tested the waters? I don’t think there’s ever a time you can say, ‘Yes, I’m totally ready right now,’ because a lot of times you have to jump off and see how it works.”
Following are stories of people who took that jump and discovered they handled college just fine.
Carrie became a quadriplegic in 2003 while attending DePaul University in her hometown of Chicago. When she was ready to return to school, she discovered her dorm was accessible and all she needed was just a little assistance. Fortunately it was easy to find. “When I went back to school, there were all sorts of accommodations. There were people to take notes and I had a personal assistant who’d come to class with me,” says Carrie. “Teachers are willing to make accommodations — they’ll even move the classroom if needed. For taking tests, I would dictate the answers to my computer, and the professor was always OK with it. Sometimes I could email stuff in, so keeping up was much easier than you would think. It was great to be right on campus, in the city and not at home.”
Carrie’s mother, Pamela, was astounded when her daughter decided to move onto campus, especially since she had only spent one semester after her injury commuting back and forth from home: “She lived in a dorm room by herself, and her personal assistants would come and go. And then unbeknownst to us, prior to graduation, she found herself an apartment.” Carrie has been living independently ever since.