Swatha Nandhakumar lives with blindness, a walking disability and mitochondrial disease. She is registered at Loyola’s Student Accessibility Center (SAC) — which provides on-campus support and accommodations for students with disabilities — but she said she’s still struggled at Loyola.
Nandhakumar, a 21-year-old junior majoring in political science, said one of the many issues she faces on campus is how the campus cafes — unlike dining halls — don’t have online menus. She said whenever she stops by Bleecker Street, the cafe in Damen Student Center, or the cafe at Mundelein Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Center Stage, she has to ask other students around her to read the menu or describe the shelved items to her.
With the help of Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC), Nandhakumar reached out to Aramark — the company which provides the food in Loyola’s dining halls and on-campus cafes — and Loyola administration to address the problem, but nothing has been done. Aramark told Nandhakumar it’ll “eventually” work on the issue, but it’s been two years since she first reached out, she said.
“I feel like we’re not getting the recognition we need,” Nandhakumar said.
This is one of the many issues students with disabilities face on campus. Despite resources like SAC, some students said they feel as though their voices aren’t being heard and not enough is being done to make Loyola more accessible.
SAC and Aramark didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s requests for comment.
Alexandra Adamo, a 21-year-old junior, has arthrogryposis, which results in the shortening and tightening of muscles and limited joint movement. Adamo, who uses a motorized scooter to get around campus easier, said she has trouble with bathroom doors specifically. When she contacted SAC to voice her concerns, she said the office told her she must “plan accordingly.”
“There’s also just a general lack of, I feel, concern,” Adamo, a psychology major, said. “Like there’s not a lot of concern for how students [with disabilities] get from place to place.”
One of SAC’s main goals is to create an inclusive environment on campus for students with disabilities, according to Loyola’s website. Adamo said she contacted SAC around a year and a half ago about having handicapped stickers for accessible bathroom stalls on campus. She said SAC followed through and the larger stalls are now labeled as being accessible.
SAC is helpful in dealing with issues in the classroom if they arise, Nandhakumar said. If a professor isn’t being accommodating enough for a student, SAC will send an email to the professor on behalf of the student in order to address the problem, Nandhakumar said.
Kathleen Meis and Mario Guerrero, SGLC’s newly elected president and vice president, highlighted accessibility issues on campus during their campaign.
“We can become an accessible campus, but we have to be very intentional about it when it comes to design[ing] [infrastructure], when it comes to our culture,” Guerrero said.
SGLC passed legislation for an American Sign Language (ASL) class last spring, Guerrero said. SGLC is able to pass two types of legislation: acts, which affect SGLC internally, and resolutions, which impact the student body. The legislation for the ASL class was passed as a resolution and approved by the academic council — made up of Loyola professors and faculty — within the College of Arts and Sciences, Guerrero said. Administration is currently working on finding a professor so the class can officially be offered to students, Guerrero said.
Guerrero said he and Meis want to push for a greater focus on accessibility through education, such as sociology courses which study disabilities in society. Guerrero said he and Meis want to make the Loyola community more aware of accessibility issues on campus.
“There’s no understanding as to what the need is for students with disabilities,” Guerrero said. “I think we all know that there’s a demand for better treatment and better services and better overall culture around it, but people just assume the Student Accessibility Center is it.”
Nandhakumar and Adamo said they wish people with disabilities were able to form more of a community on campus like other minority groups.
“Most people don’t think about [accessibility issues] unless they have to,” Nandhakumar said.
Some students have already started that conversation through a newly formed student organization, We Are Able, which tackles accessibility issues on campus. Chloe Borcean, a 19-year-old sophomore studying neuroscience, is the co-founder of We Are Able and said the organization became official about a month ago.
Borcean said the organization has noticed specific issues on campus it hopes to bring awareness to, such as increasing the number of handicap parking spots and having ramps for wheelchairs on more than just one side of a building.
We Are Able’s main goal right now is to have a seminar next fall to talk about physical and mental disabilities. Borcean said the seminar is supposed to be a day-long event with speakers addressing accessibility issues and education. Although the organization has started having conversations with the Wellness Center about its goals, Borcean said they’re currently focusing on gaining student support, especially because the organization is new.