Accessibility at Luther


Photo courtesy of Luther College

Larsen Hall is one of the housing options for upperclassmen that does not have an elevator.

Luther offers multiple support services to students with physical or mental disabilities, including Disability Services, the Student Academic Support Center, and Luther Disability Alliance, a student organization that strives to create a community for disabled students. However, some students still struggle to find support.

Disability Services helps students with educational accommodations. According to Associate Dean for Student Success Michelle Branton, there are around 250 students registered with Disability Services. Branton works directly with the Student Academic Support Center, which is located on the bottom floor of Preus Library.

SASC helps students get testing accommodations if they need extra time or a separate room to take tests. SASC provides tutoring services to all students who are struggling with their classes. Branton is working on assessing the effectiveness of services under SASC.

“I’m requiring us to survey students that we’re serving so we can find out if we’re meeting their needs,” Branton said. “We are interested in if their needs are being met. If there’s a problem, we need to know.”

Students are encouraged to register their disability with Disability Services so they can receive the services they need and that are required by law. Title IX can also be a resource for disabled students if they need to report an instance of discrimination.

In addition to mandating educational accommodations, ADA guidelines specify that all buildings must follow a certain code so people with physical disabilities can access them. Anna Schmitz (‘23) has medical conditions which make it hard for her to walk long distances or under strenuous circumstances. While Schmitz can walk up and down stairs, it is a strenuous process.

“I just have to prepare myself for the stairs,” Schmitz said. “And I’m always in a world of hurt afterwards.”

This past August, Schmitz started walking with a cane to aid her mobility in and around campus. She plans to be an RA next year but is worried about finding a living situation that works for her.

“I hope I can be an RA next year, and hopefully I’ll be placed [in Brandt],” Schmitz said. “This is the best spot for me because it has an elevator, and it’s very close to all the classes that I need for my major. I can’t do Larsen, I can’t do Olson, and I definitely can’t do Towers.”

Some residential buildings have no elevators at all, such as Larsen, Olson, and Ylvisaker. Dieseth and Miller have a split level design that requires students to climb the stairs in order to access the elevator at the main campus entrance. Farwell Hall is the only fully accessible residence hall for upperclassmen.

Mikayel Simonyan (‘20) has encountered accessibility issues in nonresidential campus buildings as well. For example, the Legends Center in Regents Center has no elevator access to the second floor, which has weight machines that a person with limited lower body mobility could use.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that there’s no access,” Simonyan said. “I still have some ability to use stairs, but if there’s someone who doesn’t have any mobility to use stairs, they won’t have access to a lot of stuff there, especially those machines that use weights. It seems minor, but it creates this whole stereotype of people with disabilities not being involved in sports or working out.”

Simonyan feels that Luther’s community is not always responsive to challenges that disabled students face. He uses a scooter to get around campus. When living in Miller last year, he had to leave it at the bottom of the stairs in a common area before he could access the elevator. His scooter was frequently in a different place than he had left it, and he felt that he did not receive adequate responses after reporting the incidents.

“I warned several people who should have been warned about it, and I never got any response,” Simonyan said. “Even before that when I was living in Brandt, it happened one time. My scooter, in order to humiliate or bully me, was taken somewhere else and left on the stairs. There was a lot of bullying when it comes to my disability in this community, and I am very immune to this stuff, but the worst part is that I never received any support from anybody.”

The Luther Disability Alliance is a student organization that provides a space for disabled students and allies to share common experiences and discuss ideas for possible changes on campus. Associate Professor of English Lindsey Row-Heyveld is the faculty adviser for the group. She said that the LDA has a unique function among the other services that Luther provides for disabled students.

“Currently the only other supports in place for students with disabilities other than the LDA are sort of focused on medical or educational issues, and not at all on disability as an identity,” Row-Heyveld said. “This isn’t true of everyone, but many disabled people see their disability as an important part of who they are and not just something to be eliminated or accommodated.”

Row-Heyveld said that a challenge for disability rights, which is not specific to Luther, is that disabilities are considered to be something for individuals to deal with, not something that a community should collectively address. However, she is hopeful about increasing inclusion for disabled people at Luther.

“Luther has a long way to go, and so does everywhere, but I’ve been really proud of the work that I’ve seen by disabled students to advocate for themselves and others,” Row-Heyveld said. “I’ve been heartened by the work of the allies in the LDA who are really invested in making a Luther an increasingly welcoming place for people with disabilities of all kinds and there are faculty and staff that are really invested in this, too.”

Simonyan hopes to see improvements to the architecture of campus buildings such as Regents, Miller, and Dieseth, and improvements to policies and awareness surrounding bullying or discrimination because of disability.

“What I want is to create an environment where people don’t have to worry about all this stuff, and everyone has a safe environment physically, mentally, spiritually to just focus on their academics and their college life and not feel left behind or live in fear,” Simonyan said.

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