Hello everyone! I am a rising sophomore at Oxford College of Emory University, and I spent the last two months going through the process of requesting a single room (i.e. a dorm room with no roommates) as a disability accommodation for T1D. My request was denied twice, but my second appeal was approved today, so I thought I would share what I did to be approved for a single room accommodation in case anyone else has a similar struggle. It will obviously vary depending on the school, their policies, and the year, but hopefully this will be helpful to anyone in the same boat.
To request a housing accommodation at Oxford, you need to submit your reasons along with a letter from a healthcare professional. My first attempt, using a letter from one of my nurse practitioner, was denied but was based on the following reasons:
- For proper functioning of insulin infusion sets and continuous glucose monitor sensors, each of these must be changed (i.e. previous insertion device must be removed and replaced with a new one) every few days (every 3 days for a set, every 7 days for a sensor). This process involves needles, often blood, and clear access to various areas of skin/fat for insertion. This is a personal process, where both I and others would be uncomfortable without privacy. It is also very anxiety-inducing for me, which will be increased with the presence of other people in the same room. Within a dorm room, there are no closed-off spaces (e.g. a private bathroom) where the necessary privacy can be achieved, and the communal bathrooms do not have the space or cleanliness necessary to comfortably insert a set or sensor. It would also be unreasonable to ask a roommate to leave the shared dorm room three or more times per week. For these reasons, the necessary privacy for diabetes management can best be achieved with a single room.
- Due to the ever-fluctuating nature of blood glucose levels with Type 1 Diabetes, my continuous glucose monitor sends alerts to my insulin pump and my phone in the case of high blood sugar, low blood sugar, or the need to manually check my levels. This is especially important overnight, as I do not always wake up on my own when these needs arise. Therefore, my insulin pump’s alerts must be loud enough to wake me up in these cases and will continue to get louder and more repetitive until I wake up and address them. These alerts consistently wake me up overnight, often multiple times per night (the most thus far was ten times in one night). Living in a double or triple room would make these wake-ups inconvenient and disruptive for more than just myself, with no recourse or way to avoid them in the future. If I were housed in a single room, I would not risk waking anyone else up with these alarms overnight, which any roommate would surely find problematic.
- The presence of blood and needles is a guaranteed part of daily life with diabetes. Many people are quite uncomfortable with one or both of these. There is no way to guarantee that any potential roommate would be 100% comfortable with these, and I cannot avoid contact with needles or blood for even one day. I manually check my blood glucose levels at least twice per day (involving pricking my fingers) and I change my insulin infusion sets and continuous glucose monitor sensors every few days (which always involves visible needles and often blood). I also cannot always postpone these activities until a roommate is out of the shared room or a convenient time alone. Being in a single room would prevent this conflict, tension, and discomfort, which would be highly likely in a double or triple room.
- Type 1 Diabetes involves a host of necessary items, including but not limited to multiple boxes of sets, sensors, reservoirs, and alcohol wipes; readily accessible food and drink in the event of hypoglycemia; refrigerated storage for insulin; and multiple medication bottles. These take up significant storage space, and considering the size of Oxford’s dorm rooms, this may take more than my share of the available space. I also need clean flat surfaces to change a set or sensor; this could significantly inconvenience others by encroaching on their space.
- Because I did not specifically match with a roommate who knows me, the person I would be living with had no knowledge of the nature of rooming with me (i.e. the many potential issues listed above) and thus could not consent to being around needles and blood every day, being woken up during the night many times (which may impact health and academic performance), and having lessened space or comfort in their room. Because many of the tasks that come with living with Type 1 Diabetes are uncomfortable, problematic, and disruptive for those not used to them, and because a random roommate would have no say in whether they live around these activities, this situation opens the possibility for ongoing interpersonal conflict that would make the shared dorm room an unhappy living situation That would only be resolved by switching rooms and/or roommates, as I cannot change the requirements of diabetes management. Being housed in a single room would guarantee the avoidance of interpersonal conflict within the dorm room.
My initial appeal (with no additional documentation) was also denied, but the Emory ADA Compliance Officer provided the opportunity to re-appeal with additional documentation. I took “additional documentation” to an extreme by not only getting a letter from my diabetes specialist, but also by supporting my previous argument by citing research studies pertaining to diabetes, disability, and campus housing. Below are the reasons and citations I provided.
Because I feel strongly that my Type 1 Diabetes warrants a single room, I reached out to my endocrinologist and diabetes specialist for additional documentation in support of my request for a single room. I also reviewed the literature on disability disclosure, Type 1 Diabetes during life transitions, and the effect of disability on roommate relationships and college experiences.
I have attached the initial documentation provided by my nurse practitioner, my doctor’s recommendation in favor of a single room, and five of the most significant pieces of literature on the subject (cited and summarized below).
- Braithwaite, D. O. (1991). “‘Just how much did that wheelchair cost?’: Management of privacy boundaries by persons with disabilities.” Western Journal of Speech Communication , 55(3), 254–274. doi:10.1080/10570319109374384.
- Braithwaite argues that disabled people navigate unique situations in communicating with able-bodied people, specifically in determining whether to disclose a disability in new relationships. Specifically, Braithwaite operates on the knowledge that disabled people are expected to reveal “normally private information about their health […] or personal habits [that] would be unusual for most able-bodied persons” (255). Most significantly, Braithwaite argues that “advising persons with disabilities to disclose about their disability is asking them to give up selective control over their own self boundaries” (271).
- Hanasono, L. K., & Nadler, L. B. (2012). “A dialectical approach to rethinking roommate relationships.” Journal of College Student Development, 53(5), 623–635 . doi:10.1353/csd.2012.0069.
- The authors argue that roommate relationships have significant positive or negative effects on students’ overall experiences on college campuses, depending on how positive or negative the roommate relationship is. Additionally, they argue that certain students tend to have more positive relationships (and thus, more positive college experiences) with specific kinds of roommates, and that some students succeed on campus with privacy and independence from any roommate.
- Helgeson, V. S., Escobar, O., Siminerio, L., & Becker, D. (2010). “Relation of stressful life events to metabolic control among adolescents with diabetes: 5-year longitudinal study.” Health Psychology, 29(2), 153–159. doi:10.1037/a0018163.
- Helgeson et al. argue that stressful life events (including major transitions like that from home to college) are generally accompanied by poorer mental health, self-care behavior, and metabolic control. Specifically, they found that stressful life events are tied to poor metabolic control but can be mediated by minimized stress and increased self-care routines.
- Payne, A. M. “The challenges of living with a roommate: The impact on students with disabilities’ residential experience” (2017). Rowan University Theses and Dissertations . 2448. https://rdw.rowan.edu/etd/2448.
- Payne argues that disabled students face unique negative challenges in dorm life when living with roommates and that these challenges significantly affect disabled students’ campus experience. Specifically, Payne found that disabled students tend to have negative experiences with roommates, which directly impacts their residential experience.
- Rasmussen, B., Ward, G., Jenkins, A., King, S. J., & Dunning, T. (2011). “Young adults’ management of Type 1 diabetes during life transitions.” Journal of Clinical Nursing, 2013-14, 1981–1992. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03657.x.
- Rasmussen et al. argue that major life transitions impact the self-care activities of young adults with Type 1 Diabetes, based on the knowledge that psychological stress and metabolic control affect both physical and mental health of disabled people. Life transitions, including moving from home to a college campus for the first time, can negatively affect blood glucose levels and ability to cope; the less disruptive a life transition, the better a diabetic person can manage good health outcomes (both physical and mental).
Additionally, I found several precedents for college students with Type 1 Diabetes being accommodated with a single room:
- Bobby Trudeau, Cameron Trudeau, Michele Lynn Polfuss, and Susan Sullivan-Bolyai, “A Developmental Milestone Map of Type 1 Diabetes Self-Management Transition From Parents to Adolescents,” Diabetes Spectrum February 2019, 32(1): 21-29, https://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/1/21.
- Table 5 - “Considerations for College and Dorm Life. Assigned to a single room to better manage diabetes needs , able to appeal to Residence Life for privacy and security (with regard to insulin, pump, CGM supplies, and maintenance).”
- “CDN Students’ Number One Tips for College and T1D,” College Diabetes Network, https://collegediabetesnetwork.org/blog/cdn-students-number-one-tips-college-and-t1d.
- " As a freshman, I was offered a huge single with a bathroom [and] air conditioning […] - Kate Lucas, Trinity College '20."
- Katharine Gordon, James A. Rapp, Brian L. Dimmick, and Crystal Jackson, “Going to College with Diabetes: A Self-Advocacy Guide for Students,” American Diabetes Association , http://main.diabetes.org/dorg/PDFs/Advocacy/Discrimination/going-to-college-with-diabetes.pdf.
- page 38 - “You might seek a placement where you: Have access to a clean and private space to perform diabetes self-care.”
As Helgeson et al., Rasmussen et al., and Trudeau et al. show, the transition from living at home to living in a college dorm is a stressful life transition that negatively impacts diabetic students’ physical and mental health. Similarly, as Braithwaite, Hanasono and Nadler, and Payne show, communication and dorm cohabitation are complicated by disability in ways that are incomparable to any able-bodied example. Because my disability requires near-constant and often highly disruptive management, conflict with a roommate is unavoidable and inflexible on my end. Additionally, communication with a roommate about these potential conflicts would require disclosing personal health and bodily information that I should be allowed to keep private, and at a level of privacy that an able-bodied person would never be required to reveal in a new relationship. For all these reasons, I am re-submitting my request to be housed in a single room for the only year I will spend on Oxford’s campus. A single room would significantly improve not only my experience in the dorms, but at Emory as a whole.
This may not be necessary for some students to get the accommodations they want/need, but I hope it’s helpful in the case that your initial request for a single room is denied, and you want to (re)appeal. Hope it helps!