Friday, April 13, 2007

Texas student wins battle over accessible dorm room

A recent article on the
Campus Progress
Web site Titled
Separate but Unequal Dorms
tells about the victory of a Texas State University student who uses a wheelchair after she had to pay higher costs than other first-year students just so she could live in an accessible dorm room.

Bailey Gosda is a sophomore at TSU who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. She has been in a nearly two-year fight with the university, in which she has contended that the university overcharged her several thousands of dollars so that she could live in a dorm room with wheelchair access. This would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA).

In 2005, Ms. Gosda visited the campus and Residence Life told her they did not know where to house her. She asked to live in Smith Building, the traditional and most affordable dorm, but there were no rooms in the building that were wheelchair accessible. The university moved her to a single room in a more expensive dorm, explaining that she and her equipment would foreclude the possibility of having a roommate. The result was that she paid more than twice what most first-year students did.

With the assistance of an attorney from
Advocacy Inc.,
a non-profit disability rights organization based in Austin, Ms. Gosda began to take on the university.

In the article, her attorney stated that, “under the ADA, Gosda should only have to pay for what she requested—a dormitory room in a traditional building with a roommate—even if there was not a wheelchair accessible room available that fit that description.” Her attorney asked the school to repay Ms. Gosda the difference.”

This seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? It was not that simple, though, as Texas State officials drug out their opposition. Read the article linked above to understand the battles this young lady had to undertake to be proven right.

Last month, Ms. Gosda was vindicated in her battle when the euniversity offered to refund the $6,000 it had overcharged her.

Hopefully, the university administration has learned a legal lesson on providing access. That was a cheap way out for them. Had she taken this matter to court and been successful, the university could have faced more severe financial penalties.

We often sit back and naively believe we are living in enlightened times when cases such as this are no longer taking place. It is a reflection of attitude towards the law and that is as subjective as any individual. The case of Ms. Gosda could have happened at any college or university. All it takes is the right situation, such as the lack of accessible rooms in the traditional dorm, and the subsequent boneheaded ignorance taken by somebody withing the university to not see the right thing to do, in this case it was to give her the accessible room at the rate of the traditional dorm room.

It is the responsibility of all DSS professionals to educate and enlighten. I would hope that the university consulted their ADA coordinator for an opinion before taking such a foolish and indefensible stance. It doesn't sound like they did, though.

1 comment:

Melanie said...

As a fellow student at TxSt, I have seen time and time again how they regard students with disabilities requiring accommodations - like a burden.

It is definitely commendable that Ms. Gosda and the P&A firm pursued the case. However, in the end, I don't think money is the overriding issue though. It's also about proving a point and breaking the ignorant mindset of the administrators that failed to fix a problem and allowed it to drag on and on.

You mention the ADA coordinator on campus. The ADA coordinator at TxSt is also the director of the campus Disability Services office. While she is a nice enough person, she is not involved and aggressive enough in representing the rights of disabled students. Just like most department directors, she still panders to what the administrators want in the end. It doesn't surprise me they weren't of much assistance to Ms. Gosda.

Apparently her case unfortunately wasn't enough of a wake up call for them. They've continued these discriminatory practices with other students since. And the state P&A firm is back on their tails again. Maybe the newest federal complaint and investigation will make them re-structure their policies.