Post-Secondary and Asthma: Asthma and Allergy Friendly Accommodations
Last updated: October 2022
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. For example, people were generally understanding when I had to reschedule two midterms because of an asthma exacerbation, and when I had to observe during classes that took place in the gym because my asthma was flaring up.
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 for students with asthma and allergies.
Asthma accommodations for students
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. This is especially true for those of us with asthma and allergies and 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. A representative may come to 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 safer!
Allergy and 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!
Asthma 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. Perhaps 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!) Maybe you just got sick unexpectedly.
This is where having your medical issues registered with the Disability/Accessibility Services center 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.
Accessing asthma accommodations as a student
Both of my experiences with receiving disability and asthma 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 asthma accommodations or support for your asthma as a student? Share what’s worked, and what hasn’t, in the comments!
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?