By Phoebe Suy | Staff Writer
Baylor’s Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA) makes the Baylor dream possible for hundreds of students each semester.
“I would not be here if it weren’t for them,” Glenview, Il. junior Krista Lee said.
Both Lee and Southlake freshman Mason Holmes utilize OALA’s disability shuttle and considered OALA’s accommodations as an integral part of their decision to choose Baylor.
While the Baylor Disability Shuttle, a service offered to students with permanent and temporary mobility impairments, is one of OALA’s most visible resources, the office also provides meal plan, housing and testing accommodations. The office also offers temporary disability parking permits.
Following serious shoulder and knee injuries from high school football, Holmes underwent knee surgery three weeks before move-in day. He said Baylor’s campus layout clarified his college decision because he figured navigating campus post-surgery would not be as difficult compared to a larger university.
Moving into college as a freshman and spending the first few weeks on crutches was tough, Holmes said.
Holmes contacted OALA at least a month before school started to arrange for accommodations and services. The process was simple, Holmes said. He emailed Accessibility Coordinator Candice Coulter, had his doctor send in the appropriate documentation and was able to meet in-person with Coulter during Welcome Week.
Living in Brooks Flats, Holmes said there’s no way he would get to some of his classes in Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation without the shuttle.
“I think Baylor has done an awesome job helping me out, in fact, I’d go as far to say I don’t know if I could think of one thing Baylor could have done better to help me get around,” Holmes said.
According to Lee, the application process for OALA was quick and seamless. Lee encourages any students seeking assistance from OALA not to be deterred by the process.
“[It’s] honestly not that bad, that’s just as much [work] as filling out a shopping order if you’re online shopping,” Lee said.
Lee said she was meant to go to Baylor because of OALA’s services.
“It definitely was a total God-thing,” Lee said. “Honestly, if I didn’t have that shuttle, there’s no way I would’ve made it to any of my classes.”
In addition to the disability shuttle, Lee said OALA’s testing accommodations have been helpful.
The OALA office exists to “level the playing field to give students with disabilities the same opportunity for success in the classroom as students without disabilities,” Associate Vice Provost for Academic Enrollment Management Dr. Sinda Vanderpool said.
The Baylor Disability Shuttle service was officially added a year and a half ago as the OALA office expanded to accommodate Baylor’s growing student population. According to OALA Director Dae Vasek, Baylor is not required to provide this type of door-to-door transportation service.
“It’s not required by ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] if your institution has accessible transportation in and around campus,” Vasek said. “But Baylor, being missional and wanting to provide and care for our students, decided they wanted to do this.”
In the past, OALA generally began the semester with 700-800 registered students, but the number of students seeking assistance from their office has grown significantly in the last year.
Vasek said OALA is now providing services to over 1,100 students including undergraduates, graduate students and law school students.
Baylor’s disability shuttle is unique among college campuses. As Vasek began thinking about the project, she tried to contact other universities and colleagues about the best model but said there really wasn’t one out there.
The office considered conducting a route system like a bus, but found it ultimately was not the best use of resources and did not actually meet students’ needs if a driver was driving around for two hours without picking anyone up. Additionally, an on-demand service would not be practical given the volume of students needing transports.
Accessibility Coordinator Candice Coulter plans the logistics of the disability shuttle. Coulter said last spring they hit almost 5,000 scheduled transports, totaling approximately 350 scheduled transports a week.
“When you consider that every single one of those transports has to be individually coordinated with 50 students’ schedules, it takes a little bit of time [to coordinate],” Coulter said. “Unfortunately, there are requirements that [students] need to meet as far as medical documentation, which is going to be consistent across any disabilities office.”
Although Coulter said the first week of school is the most difficult in terms of coordinating routes, she tries to make it as easy as possible for students to get on the shuttle. She said each student that turned in medical documentation, submitted the shuttle application and requested an intake meeting for shuttle services was set up by the first Friday of school.
“Every semester seems to break records when it comes to this service,” Vasek said. “It’s more well-known now and every semester is kind of new.”
The first week of the fall semester, Coulter trained 15 brand new drivers, some of whom are freshmen new to Baylor campus. This semester the disabilities shuttle is operating with 25 drivers.
One of the best ways to coordinate services with the OALA office is to reach out to them before planned surgeries or other anticipated events wherein a student might need accommodations.
OALA’s documentation committee reviews applications every Friday morning. Students are generally contacted by Friday afternoon or first thing the following Monday. If a student is in an emergency situation, the office will meet with them whenever they apply.