ADA — A Tupelo quadriplegic is wrangling with East Central University officials over whether he can live in the campus dorms. Joshua Jackson, 35, an East Central University junior, was notified Oct. 21 he could not live in the dorms unless he hires an assistant to stay overnight. He must move out by Dec. 12 if he doesn’t have one. Campus officials say the decision is a matter of safety. Jackson says the $11,000 a year it would cost to pay for an assistant is not within his means. School officials are worried about Jackson living in the dorms because he cannot move from his bed to his wheelchair without help. Jackson now has an assistant who helps him get in bed at night and out in the morning. There is not an aide in his room overnight if he needs to suddenly leave the room. The caregiver also helps with some daily chores. Jackson broke his neck in 1999 after a car crash outside of Tishomingo. He spent 100 days in the hospital. Since then he has lived with family and on his own. He cannot use his lower body and has limited use of his arms, wrists and hands. "This isn’t a discussion about disability, it’s about safety,” said Diane Berty, vice president of student development. She said students must be able to evacuate if there is an emergency. Otherwise they become a risk to themselves and possibly others. Kayla Bower, executive director of the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, said Jackson is likely more safe in the dorms than other places he could live. "My hunch is nothing more than a smart safety plan could be a solution,” she said. Sometimes it’s presumed that because a person has a disability they are a danger, she said. Bower said the school should approach the situation in a problem-solving way. Jody Harlan, public information administrator for the state Department of Rehabilitation Services, said it’s understandable school officials are concerned about liability, but there are other solutions. "It’s best if the student becomes self-sufficient and independent,” she said. "Let’s find a way for him to live safely.” Harlan suggests alerting outside authorities in case of an emergency and working with on-campus groups to see if they would be willing to help. Samantha Moreno, a 25-year-old master’s student at the university and newly crowned Ms. Wheelchair Oklahoma, said a campus group of students with disabilities has discussed Jackson’s situation. Moreno said rules are in place to keep students safe. Jackson should have been able to anticipate the problem. "But things need to be changed and looked at sometimes,” she said.
The accommodationBerty cannot comment on Jackson’s situation because of privacy laws. She said in higher education it is the student’s responsibility to alert school officials if accommodations are needed. The university can do some things within reason, but others are the student’s responsibility. "It’s not the student’s disability that is discussed,” she said. "It’s the accommodation. We try to exhaust every option to make them.” Jackson said he filled out his application to live in the dorms and indicated he is in a wheelchair and needs a room large enough for a hospital bed. He didn’t state he needed an overnight aide. He also included medical information from his doctor. He said he has worked with the university’s financial aid office to find grants and loans he might be eligible for, but even with assistance, he would be left with thousands of dollars in bills. "If it’s a question of hiring an aide to be with me eight hours a night, I can’t afford it,” he said. Berty said the school cannot pay for an overnight aide. A letter sent to Jackson in October signed by Berty states he could remain on campus without an assistant until the end of the semester, but he would be, "assuming any risks, including death, by residing in the residence hall.” "It’s a behavioral conduct issue — that’s the hallmark we work from,” Berty said. She said because he can’t evacuate his dorm on his own at night, he is violating school codes and residence hall rules. Without the aide, Jackson said he will likely have to live in an adult home or with family outside of Ada. This would put even more strain on his fixed income and would give him less time for school work. "I just wanted to focus on my education,” he said. "I didn’t want to have to worry about anything else and I wanted to have the same opportunities as other students.”