CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCCU) — The first floor of Timothy J. Nugent Hall at the University of Illinois (U of I) is dedicated to students living with disabilities.
Many were a part of the Beckwith Residential Support Services Program or BRSS for years.
“The main reason why I chose to go to U of I because it has such a unique program for students with disabilities,” U of I student Zain Bando said.
Bando is a junior studying journalism. For almost two years he was in BRSS.
It helped anyone with physical disabilities who require assistance with basic activities of daily living. It provided personal assistants or PA’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
According to U of I, the program was not able to continue this semester.
Bando said he would have preferred to be there to help with the process and decision making.
“Because, Beckwith is no longer operating the services that they use to provide we kind of have to manage it ourselves,” Bando said.
U of I graduate student Lauren Bryant said she’s used BRSS for about three and a half years.
“Without BRSS I wouldn’t be at U of I,” she said. “I wouldn’t be at a 4-year college anywhere most likely.”
Bryant said she’s angry the program was cut.
“For a university that prides itself so highly on accessibility and being very accommodating to students with disabilities. They’re not putting their money where their mouth is,” Bryant said.
So, students created a new version of a similar program.
“We basically hired our own PA’s and created a modified floater system,” Bando said. “The floater is someone who’s a rotational PA that comes into Nugent Hall every four hours to manage tasks that regular PA’s wouldn’t be around for.”
Fox Illinois/Newschannel 20 reached out to U of I to find out why the program didn’t continue this semester.
We received this statement from Spokesperson Robin Kaler:
As an institution, we have long been committed to serving students with disabilities, including through our Beckwith program, which has been in existence for many years. That program has many components and offers a range of services. As part of the Beckwith program, the university provides Personal Assistant (PA) care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Despite a great deal of effort by both the university, the students and their families, we were not able to secure enough PAs to operate the Beckwith program this semester.
There is a shortage of human service workers, and the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened that.
We have assigned our students who have been able to secure PA coverage accessible rooms in our residence halls. But we cannot provide the level and quality of care necessary to operate the Beckwith program this semester.
We will continue to try to secure PAs for the spring semester in hopes we can restart the Beckwith program then. Not offering the Beckwith program this semester has been the most heartbreaking impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for all of us. But as with all of our students, the health and safety of the students in the Beckwith program has been and continues to be a top priority for the university.
Not offering the Beckwith program this semester has been the most heartbreaking impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for all of us.
Bando and Bryant said they were told the program closed because it was a liability,
“We would have all been happy I’m sure to sign liability waivers or done whatever it is we need to do to allow the program to reopen,” Bryant said.
Both want an apology from the university and wants full transparency in the future.
“If they truly were heartbroken they would’ve done everything that they could to make it work,” Bando said.
Fox Illinois/Newschannel 20 is told some students have to pay personal assistants out of their pocket.
U of I says it hopes it can secure pa’s for the spring semester so it can reopen the program then.