Students initiated effort to find more accessible, welcoming location
Thursday, January 23, 2020

The University of Iowa Student Disability Services (SDS) office, currently located in the basement of Burge Residence Hall, will move into a new location on the first floor of University Capitol Centre. The university will lease 5,616 square feet of former retail space across from Panera. Renovations will begin this spring, with a goal for SDS to move in to the space in fall 2020.

In fall 2018, the student organization UI Students for Disability Advocacy & Awareness (UISDAA) started a petition to relocate SDS, citing accessibility concerns and an unwelcoming location at Burge. A committee consisting of UI administrators, staff, members of UISDAA, and other students formed and met from the end of 2018 throughout 2019. 

“I am very pleased that we have been able to take this step to better support students with disabilities, and to demonstrate our commitment to their success,” says Montserrat Fuentes, executive vice president and provost. “I appreciate the students sharing their concerns about the current space, and I’m grateful to (former Vice President for Student Life) Melissa Shivers and the Division of Student Life for making this a priority.”

SDS strives to ensure a fair learning environment by coordinating reasonable accommodations to qualified students who demonstrate a condition producing significant functional limitations in one or more major life activities. These can include learning disabilities; medical disabilities; brain injuries; psychological disabilities, such as depression or anxiety disorders; or physical disabilities, including hearing and vision impairments. 

SDS served 1,350 students in fall 2019.

The larger campus community was invited to a Dec. 5, 2019, town hall hosted by the Division of Student Life and UISDAA to discuss desired criteria for a possible short-term location. In conjunction with the town hall, a survey also was distributed to UI Student Government, Graduate and Professional Student Government, residence halls, and disability-related student organizations. 

Survey responses identified students’ top priorities for a new space as being located on the first floor, at the center of campus, with accessible parking nearby. 

SDS will call the UCC space home for three to five years as officials and students discuss a more long-term strategy and location. It has not yet been decided what will happen with the current SDS space in Burge.

Kaydee Ecker, president of UISDAA and a fifth-year student studying English and creative writing and disability studies, says the relocation wouldn’t have happened without the hard work and dedication of graduate student and former UISDAA President Andrea Courtney, who recognized a problem with the office being located in the basement of Burge and decided to do something about it. 

“Words cannot express how thrilled I am about the news,” Ecker says. “Getting to this point has been a long, labor-some, emotionally draining process—but reaching this milestone and knowing just how far we’ve come makes it all worth it.”