Accessible residence hall lifts UF in disability rankings

The University of Florida’s Cypress Hall—a universally accessible residence hall—was a key reason the university was included in New Mobility magazine’s top 10 ranking of wheelchair friendly schools, the interim director of the Disability Resource Center said.

New Mobility, a lifestyle magazine for wheelchair users, surveyed hundreds of colleges and universities about both their wheelchair accessibility and existing campus disability culture. Ten writers, nine of whom were wheelchair users, then visited the top-scoring campuses and determined the top schools for their Wheels on Campus special edition.

“We are so excited [by the ranking],” said Jenna Gonzalez, the interim DRC director. “UF is a place that goes beyond compliance and beyond access, and we see that with our wheelchair-user students.”

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Cypress Hall, one of only two such residence halls in the country, featured prominently in the magazine’s decision. It was designed with universal accessibility in mind and on the first floor has 19 fully outfitted rooms to help physically disabled students, said Jenna Gonzalez, the interim DRC director.

UF Cypress Hall

The first-floor rooms have chair lift systems built into the ceiling, which allow students to put themselves in lifts and take them to the bathroom and even into the shower. Sinks and grab bars in the bathrooms are adjustable.

The technology in the rooms also provides students with keyless entry and the ability to control blinds and doors with an iPad.

All of the features allow students to be as autonomous as possible.

Gonzalez said Cypress Hall helped convinced her to first apply for a job with the DRC.

“That building stood as a pillar of what UF believed in,” Gonzalez said. “They actually put money into something that means something to people. [It showed] that disability is a valued aspect of diversity.”

Cypress Hall was not the only factor that led to UF’s ranking. The magazine also noted a campus culture that is inclusive of physically disabled students and its overall wheelchair accessibility. UF campus buildings are 100 percent wheelchair accessible, a feature only half of the schools in the survey reported.

In addition to rewarding UF’s effort to create an inclusive campus, the magazine’s ranking also may help the center to reach some of its short-term goals, which Gonzalez said includes getting out to high schools to spread the word about what UF has to offer students with disabilities.

“People don’t apply to UF because they don’t know about us,” Gonzalez said. “I want students with disabilities to know they can apply to UF, and they can come here, and they can get accommodations.”

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