October 28, 2009 — The University of Virginia and several local landlords are working together to help accommodate the needs of students with disabilities living off Grounds.
U.Va.'s Office of Off-Grounds Housing, Wade Apartments, Woodard Properties and GrandMarc at the Corner have each contributed $500 to establish a fund to help pay for devices or apartment adjustments that may make off-Grounds living a more viable option for disabled students – items like bed shakers, flashing door lights, bathroom rails and modified door frames.
"The driving force behind this was the people on the Student Council," said Vickie Hawes, director of the Office of Off-Grounds Housing. She specifically cited Carrie Filipetti and Ishraga Eltahir, co-chairs of the Student Council's Diversity Initiatives Committee, who pushed for the program.
"Too often, diversity is seen as a synonym for race," Filipetti said. "We look at it differently. Racial diversity is an important aspect of our work, but we also aim for socio-economic, religious, cultural and intellectual diversity, among others."
Hawes, who has been working with Student Council for the past year on this issue, said that students became concerned about accommodations for students with disabilities off Grounds. Hawes said there had been cases where students paid for their own modifications to apartments.
Filipetti said she noticed the lack of access last spring when she was shopping for an apartment.
"A few buildings I looked at seemed to have no first-floor units and no elevators, which got me thinking about how students with disabilities choose apartments," she said.
There are apartments accessible for people with disabilities in the community, but Hawes said the landlords cannot reserve those apartments strictly for tenants with disabilities. Hawes said while there was not a large pool of students who need the accommodations, they may not have access to this limited pool of places.
"This is compounded because students are signing leases in October for the following year," Hawes said. "We decided to establish a fund to which students could apply for financial help for these minor modifications."
Students may apply to the fund for money to pay for accommodations, such as a bed shaker that a deaf person would use as an alarm clock, or support rails in a bathroom.
Hawes and the students said they believe other landlords will also contribute to the fund.
Students with disabilities living on Grounds have access to residence houses with elevators, special bathrooms and other aids. Hawes said that her office is working closely with the Learning Needs Evaluation Center in Student Health, which helps determine what accommodations students with disabilities need.
"This has been a real learning process for all of us about the world of disabilities," Hawes said.