North Texas Daily

Students with disabilities discuss semester progress and challenges

Students with disabilities discuss semester progress and challenges

Students with disabilities discuss semester progress and challenges
October 01
10:00 2021

With this fall semester reverting largely back to face-to-face classes, the North Texas Daily reached out to students with disabilities for their thoughts on how the university is accommodating them.

“I would say that it has been a challenging experience,” sculpture junior Ryan Semegran said. “It is difficult to get used to an entire year of being online and secluded, then being shoved back into face-to-face life in just a couple of months. Especially for those of us that struggle with mental illnesses.”

For Semegran, who identifies as mentally disabled, there is a continued atmosphere of uncertainty with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s either you feel like your brain is melting at home or living in constant fear that somebody who couldn’t care less about you is going to get you sick,” Semegran said. 

Whether or not a student, staff or faculty member wears a mask is down to their personal decision. Due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s May 18 executive order forbidding government entities from enforcing mask mandates, the university is legally barred from creating any such ordinance.

President Neal Smatresk has asked students to follow the current city mandate and unvaccinated students were required to test for COVID-19 from Aug. 16 to Sept 20. 

For rehabilitation studies junior Peyton Jones, the above has not been enough. Jones has both systemic lupus erythematosus and scleroderma, which affect her autoimmune system.  The latter triggers stiffening in her joints, affecting Jones’ mobility. To treat these conditions, she needs medications that suppress her immune system.  

“I have limited mobility in my hands and that is what qualifies me as a person with a disability,” Jones said. “I have a physical impairment that I will live with for the rest of my life.” 

Jones said she was initially excited to return to campus, hoping to take part in the campus experience, but had doubts when COVID-19 cases began rising.  She also has doubts about some of the university’s COVID-19 protocols.

What is the benefit of having COVID test check-ins every so often, when the incubation period is anywhere from two to 14 days,” Jones said. “If someone gets tested right before the virus sets in, then what is the point? I doubt they would go back and get tested within three or four days.”

Another student with a disability that affects their mobility and navigating campus is criminal justice senior Shawnett Viani. Viani is deaf and has Larsen’s Syndrome, a rare disability requiring the use of a powerchair. 

“I require ramps, leveled ground, automatic door openers […] space in an elevator for my powerchair,” Viani said. “A lot of these things UNT provides but needs major adjustments to make them universally accessible.”

While Viani said navigating the university was not as challenging as it was back in 2012, when she withdrew for personal reasons, she also noted a number of buildings with inefficient accessibility. Willis Library, her favorite building, has shelving her powerchair could get stuck in, elevators barely big enough to fit her and bathrooms that are often inaccessible.

The Life Science Complex also lacks an automatic door opener, requiring another person to hold it open for Viani, and the lecture classroom she attends has a steep ramp that she feels unsafe using.

“I also need a van-accessible parking space and those are hard to come by sometimes, so I have to arrive early or I could be stuck parking far away,” Viani said. 

To accommodate students’ disabilities, the university has the Office of Disability Access, which acts as a campus-wide resource for students. 

The office switched to virtual services during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since transitioned back to providing in-person services with virtual meetings available. Among the accommodations available, ODA Director Katy Washington listed included extra time for testing, lecture recordings and making sure a classroom is an accessible location among others. 

Viani said she would not be back in college without the ODA and that it has been an incredible resource for her. 

There are some issues I have inside classrooms in terms of accessibility that haven’t been sorted but the ODA has been involved every step of the way to ensure that I have the most successful and accessible experience at UNT and for that I am grateful,” Viani said. “They have helped me get note-takers for my classes, access to ‘hearing’, access to supports and services, as well as equipment if needed.”

Featured Image: Students walk through the Union on March 3, 2021. Photo by John Anderson

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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