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The Northerner

Can’t hear her fire alarm

Melissa McLeod

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A hearing impaired student at NKU faces a problem that is potentially life-threatening in the event of an emergency. Crystal Hudson, who is hearing impaired, would not hear the fire alarm if there was a fire in the dorms.

She has struggled in her assertive efforts to work with the NKU Housing and Disabilities Center since the beginning of the semester so that she may receive proper safety accommodations in her dorm room.

“It doesn’t matter if you are UK, NKU or U of L, you are responsible to provide safety…It is up to Northern to make the university as safe as it can be,” said Jeff Sandfoss, chief of the Campbell County Fire Station.

Lisa Besnoy, the director of Disability and Testing Services, said, “To my knowledge, all of the safety standards have been met.” Besnoy explained that the university has a list of students who have signed onto the Norse Alert system.

Through Norse Alert, those students, in the event of an emergency or important announcement, are informed through e-mail, phone calls and text messages minutes, or sometimes hours, after the university itself is notified. The fire alarms in University Suites where Hudson lives are also fitted with blinking lights as part of its warning system.

“It (isn’t) that I don’t have a blinking light on the wall, but during drills I have found it hard to notice (the lights) unless it’s brought to my attention,“ Hudson said. “When I e-mailed the disabilities office about this I was asked not to stay in my room, but to follow housing protocol and was given the suggestion of NKU Alert system. I have no idea what would happen if I’m asleep.”

“If there is a fi re in the room and someone is not aware that there is a fire, that is a problem,” Sandfoss said. “There are deaths with sprinklers — smoke can reach someone before fire…If we have smoke in a building, by the time we get there it may be too late.”

The thought of an actual fire bothers Hudson.

“The fact that there is a chance I may not be aware of a fire bothers me. There have been a few drills, but no actual events thus far,” Hudson said. Hudson has been to both the Housing office and Disability Center several times because of her situation. Hudson has also consulted outside resources.

“During fire safety week I communicated the situation to one of the official men. The man I communicated with asked me if something that vibrated would help. He said he would talk with housing/ maintenance,” Hudson said.

The Campbell County Fire Department is willing to help Hudson in this situation. “We normally receive smoke detectors from the Red Cross for the deaf and blind. We work with NKU all of the time. They are very good about safety, it just sounds like something that has fallen between the cracks. Whatever we need to do, we will work with them,” Sandfoss said.

“The reply that I received from housing is their willingness to act if the disabilities services will support what needs to be provided and request that I be accommodated,” said Hudson.

Peter Trentacoste, director of University Housing, explained that it is not Housing’s responsibility to choose whether or not to accommodate a student’s needs. Students have to receive the “OK” initially from NKU’s Disability Services.

The students are sent to Disability Services in order to receive approval of any suggested or needed accommodations.

“We are the implementers — not the decision makers. When a student says, ‘I need this’ and a dorm does not have it we will comply with Disability Services and what they recommend. When it comes to what we do when there is a concern, the students need to see disability services,” Trentacoste said.

According to the Disability Service Web site, “The office of Disability Services will collaborate with the Offi ce of University Housing to provide reasonable accommodations for students with special needs.”

The Disability Services Mission Statement says, “The NKU Offi ce of Disability Services (DS) is committed to providing learner-centered assistance and resources to students with disabilities in their transition to Northern Kentucky University. Our mission is to provide reasonable accommodations and a supportive environment where students with disabilities have access and opportunity to succeed in their pursuit of a higher education.”

Hudson is determined to make her transition and sense of safety in the dorms the best it can be — still, nothing has been done despite her many attempts and proposals.

“Our department really cares about students. We rely on expertise across the campus for all students,” Trentacoste said.

“At the end of the day, if the Disability Services tell us to do something, we do it. We have a lot of students that we accommodate and some things have been quite expensive. It doesn’t matter if it is a $40 or $40,000 dollar item, we will do what we need to.”

Story by Melissa McLeod

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Can’t hear her fire alarm