Student Access Rooms
Educational institutions are continually discovering new issues that need to be addressed in the pursuit of equality of access in education. Through ongoing consultation with the various participants, agreements can be reached and solutions found.
It is the responsibility of institutions to ensure that students with disability have equal opportunity in accessing an education. This includes the physical environment of the campus, where the provision of assistive technology, ergonomic furniture, quiet rest areas, sensory spaces, parenting rooms and access to kitchenettes needs to be considered.
Examples of spaces
Resting rooms can be designed to accommodate students who need to take medication (such as insulin), or those who have chronic pain or severe fatigue and need to rest before lectures and tutorials. Following on from questions raised on the Austed email list around this issue, the general consensus is that these rooms are not supervised and are for rest only, not for illness or conditions that might require medical attention. Lockers are provided in some resting rooms. These may be used to store linen or sleeping bags if using the room on a regular basis, otherwise disposable sheeting and pillowcases can be made available. Some institutions are piloting a napping stations and low sensory rooms. Other institutions are considering the provision of facilities with assistive technology rooms and multi-access suites. Some of these areas may be provided on for extended hours including late night or 24-hour access so safety and risk management considerations need to be considered.
Sensory spaces are controlled spaces where students can regulate their sensory input and emotions, recover from sensory overload and access resources. These spaces are often used for students who are neurodiverse, people experiencing anxiety, PTSD or trauma, and others who may need a quiet space.
It might include access to:
- low light spaces
- floor mates, floor cushions and bean bags
- climate control
- sensory tools with fidget spinners, earplugs or stress balls, games, puzzles, reading materials
- access to information for support services
- noise cancelling headphones.
Other facilities may include:
- rest areas with day beds and lounges
- accessible sanitary facilities
- assistive technology areas with specialised software and ergonomic furniture
- screened areas for the administration of medication
- parenting rooms.
Student support services
Institutions need to consider which service/s will be responsible for these accessible areas. Health services, student services, disability services, library services and facility management within each institution may also need to be involved. The facilities will need to be monitored as to the number of students accessing them, the adequacy of the resources provided, and whether there needs to be rostering to ensure equitable access. Students using these facilities may need to be registered with campus security.
Amenities that are offered in extended hours or 24/7 are often locked off from other amenities and institutions should make sure that accessibility is not compromised and that suitable safety procedures are in place to protect students, staff and visitors.
As a disability practitioner you may need to decide whether these facilities require swipe card access or can be open to all students. Provision of such spaces for students with diverse needs will ensure that institutions are meeting the needs of all students academically, environmentally and socially.