Finding Accessibility Off-Campus

Next to Alaska, Texas is the second biggest state. Next to California, Texas has the second largest number of disabled people. In fact, there are around 171 thousand people from the ages of 18-34 living with a disability in Texas. This age demographic is the most likely to be in college, or at least living independently. 

Texas State had its largest freshman class this year – over 7,570 students came into the campus with smiling faces and high expectations. However, the housing situation was nothing to smile about – especially for disabled students.

Out of the 36,840 students that attend Texas State, only five percent are enrolled with the Office of Disability Services. Their goal is to offer resources to students with disabilities, whether it’s a need for an interpreter, extended test times, or dorm accommodations. 

There is one question though: What do they do for students who need accommodations off campus?

Journalism senior Abby Gage, who has Type 1 diabetes and relies on her service dog, remembers a time during her freshman year where she had to move to a single-occupant dorm in the rain with her supplies – with no help. Once she moved to an apartment complex, it didn’t get much better. 

“I haven’t had too many problems at The Avenue [apartment complex] per se, there’s definitely not anything that helps with my disability here,” Gage said. “You’ll have little dogs running around and biting at my service dog’s ankle. It’s not the safest, but at least there’s a lock on the door and I can keep my supplies protected.”

A resource that may not be widely known by students is the Off-Campus Housing Marketplace, a hub where students who are looking for off-campus living arrangements can find apartments in the area that will suit their needs. However, for students looking for places that will accommodate their disability, some of the apartments in San Marcos don’t explicitly show this. In fact, 17 out of 24 apartments that students frequently live at have accessibility available to their residents. 

In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that prohibits discrimination based off of disability. With ADA compliance, public areas are required to provide accessible spaces to disabled people, as well as provide accommodations when needed. When students look for accessible spaces, they mostly look for the International Symbol of Access, which is the symbol commonly linked to handicap spaces. On campus, 13 out of 23 dorms do have elevators and accessibility ramps. Off campus, 16 out of 24 of these apartments have the symbol shown on their website as well as through pictures – which may not be enough for students who need housing. 

Once a student finds an apartment complex that’ll match their needs for accommodation, the next step is touring the facility and talking with a leasing agent – a good note is asking questions about the complex’s accessibility features. The Outpost, an apartment complex that houses many Texas State students, is willing to work with disabled students if they need accommodations and adjustments to their apartment.

“If a resident needs accommodations, they need to email us these accommodations so we can have it in writing,” assistant property manager Cody Kerr said. “Most things are immediately approved, such as hand railings, which we can install before move-in.” 

As apartments in the San Marcos area fill up, students with disabilities may have to make a choice quicker than their able-bodied peers; accommodations such as first floor priority, placement by a ramp or handicap parking, having bottom floor bedroom priority, or having appliances in easier to reach places – and they should make sure that they have these needs stated in writing into their signed lease.

A lot of advocation is encouraged on the student’s part; communication between the student and the apartment complex is a noted must. However, if complications arise with getting accommodations, there are avenues such as the Attorney for Students that are there to help get demands in writing.

Students with disabilities should have the same opportunities to look at apartments and be able to live where they want without hurdles – however, the current housing crisis and the rapid rate of apartments filling up threatens this. 

I have a video and audio story that go hand in hand with this story. Here they are:

Audio story by Rease Young
Video story by Rease Young

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