Advocates for Access

The UA Disability Resource Center offers opportunities for success
By:
Ford Burkhart

For a new UA student with a disability, something is instantly obvious. Wherever you look, most everything accommodates access. Lectures. Doors. Ramps. Policies. Entire buildings. It all reflects the UA’s goal of “universal design.” 

“Students with a disability should have a similar experience as their nondisabled peers,” says Sue Kroeger, the UA’s top advocate for this concept. “You should have access without having to ask for something.”

Kroeger has been the director of the Disability Resource Center for 14 years, carefully implementing its philosophy and overseeing facilities and programs. Its universal design makes the UA one of the leading institutions for accessibility, and in athletics, one DRC division offers more sports than any other college and is home to the nation’s largest wheelchair athletics program.

Here are a few perks that draw students with disabilities to the UA:

The DRC runs a high-tech lab with a wide array of assistive technology, or AT, which includes adaptive and rehabilitative devices from wheelchairs to cognition aids. Students meet with one of five “access consultants” to identify barriers and figure out solutions. The DRC converts print text to alternative formats and provides sign language interpreters across the campus. It creates captions for videos and podcasts. It proctors exams for students who need extra time, and it can supply a reader or a scribe.

“We do around 10,000 exams a year,” says Kroeger, who also teaches her specialty in the College of Education. 

The DRC is a part of all renovation and new construction projects to make sure UA facilities are in compliance. Additionally, staff experts are available to assist departments in ensuring that their websites and online instruction are accessible. 

“We have a lot to be proud of,” Kroeger says.

The UA seeks nothing less than a campus with no need for individual accommodation. “We are designing not for a few but for many,” Kroeger says at her office in the center, along Sixth Street. “It’s been fun to be a part of it.”

She came to the UA after 15 years at the University of Minnesota to become only the second director of the center in its four decades. The first was Kent Kloepping, who as a UA student lit early fires that led to the center’s development, starting from a staff of two in 1970. Then, the center served 50 students, many of them veterans. Now, its staff of 32 serves 2,000 students, some of them Iraq and Afghanistan vets. And it helps more than 100 faculty and staff with disabilities as well.

Perhaps the best known DRC element is athletics.

The UA offers six sports, more than any other college or university, including men’s and women’s basketball, track, wheelchair tennis, handcycling, and quad rugby — a truly brutal wheelchair sport played fast on a basketball court. Words can’t describe this sport’s rough and tumble play. See for yourself at bit.ly/UArugby.

It is the largest wheelchair athletics program in the country, David Herr-Castillo, director of UA Adaptive Athletics, says. “We are the national model. We’ve raised the bar.”

The UA is the only U.S. campus with a wheelchair rugby team. It plays nationally against pro teams, teams from rehab hospitals, and city teams, like the one in Phoenix. “It was a void we needed to fill,” Herr-Castillo says.

The DRC’s Adaptive Athletics program geared up in the 1980s and sent the first UA Paralympian to the 1988 games in Seoul. Since then, the UA has prepared 27 Wildcats to compete in Paralympic events, and there are now 80 athletes training with a staff of eight. The University expects to send its usual delegation of stars to the Paralympics in Rio in 2016, says Herr-Castillo.