Post-Secondary and Asthma: Asthma and Allergy Friendly Accommodations
I never really thought of my asthma as a disability when it came to my time in university. It’s not that asthma didn’t cause me trouble a time or two, it’s just that my profs were fairly accommodating, like when I had to reschedule two midterms because of an asthma exacerbation, or when I had to observe during classes that took place in the gym because my asthma was flaring up—people were generally understanding. It wasn’t until after I was diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability and registered as a student with a disability, that I even considered that there were a couple of things that Accessibility Services was able to do, that might be helpful to students with asthma and allergies.
I won’t say “fragrance free” because adhering to the rules is up to your peers to help you out! However, your campus’s Disability/Accessibility Services department likely has dealt with people with fragrance sensitivities before—from those of us with asthma and allergies, to people with headaches or migraines triggered by fragrances (I also fall into that category!).
If you experience health issues from fragrances, getting this documented and on file is important! Your campus may place signs on your classroom door to advise students that a student in the class or classroom has health issues triggered by fragrances, and a representative may come speak to your class about what this actually means and what students need to avoid. And, they won’t—or shouldn’t—single you out!
Allergy-aware locker banks
At the University of Winnipeg, where I completed my first undergrad degree, there is a bank of lockers that are designated nut and peanut free. The neighboring lockers, unused by students with nut/peanut allergies, I presume are left empty to assure students that neighboring lockers are allergen-free. While this is not a guarantee that lockers will be free of airborne or cross-contamination by other students, it is a degree of precaution that may make people with severe allergies or at risk of anaphylaxis feel a bit more safe!
Allergy/fragrance-aware lunch spaces
The Accessibility Resource Centre (ARC) at the University of Winnipeg had a lot of signs on the walls with the purpose of keeping all students safe—it is both a fragrance-free and allergen-free zone (nuts/peanuts and fish, specifically). If you have food allergies, finding a safe lunch spot on campus may be difficult. Your campus Disability/Accessibility Services department may have such a space available to you, or be able to create one upon request. As with lockers, nothing is a guarantee, however, with a smaller number of students using the space (while I attended a smaller university, there were maybe a dozen of us who regularly hung out in the ARC!), it may be an environment that is a bit more controlled. As well, students using these spaces will have their own accommodation requirements, and as such, are likely to be more respectful of your needs if you speak up!
Advocacy for Students
Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Maybe you’ve self-advocated, but your instructor keeps wearing cologne to class, or that person beside you can’t help but slather on grapefruit lotion mid-lecture. Or you’re in a lab and for some mysterious reason, you’re surrounded by latex gloves and dissecting bananas even though you’ve articulated your latex allergy to your instructor. (I had a friend dissecting fruit in a class once to look at under microscopes. Pretty cool, unless you’re cross-reactive or allergic to bananas, kiwis, avocados, or the like!) Or, maybe you just got sick unexpectedly. This is where having your medical issues registered with the Disability/Accessibility Services centre is important: if you’ve done your best, documented what you can, and are still experiencing issues, they can advocate on your behalf! I had a couple such instances where I needed my Accessibility Advisor to advocate for me to access my learning disability accommodations as required—they advocated for me so compassionately and matter-of-factly with my instructors, that I almost felt silly about my hesitance to contact them!
Both of my experiences with receiving disability accommodations in university have been above and beyond what i’d ever expected—if you have any medical issues or disabilities, I highly recommend at least investigating this option on campus! As I write this, I’ve just received a three-page summary of my accommodations from the Access to Students with Disabilities Department at Athabasca University. Studying by distance education, asthma wasn’t at the top of mind of needed accommodations. However, I’m thinking now that getting them to note my asthma on file might be a good idea—just in case!
Have you accessed accommodations or support for your asthma when attending college or university? Share what’s worked, and what hasn’t, in the comments!