Illustration by Reine Defranco

Accessibility on Campus

Lack of legal requirements inhibits accessibility.

While members of administration, faculty and student body are working to provide greater disability access on campus, the lack of automated doors hinders those who are wheelchair-bound or have limited mobility. NYU Abu Dhabi is only obliged to follow UAE federal law, not the U.S. law — the Americans with Disabilities Act. Tamkeen has the ultimate say in any changes that will be made to campus infrastructure; the cost of modifications and the lack of legal impetus for changing the current campus have inhibited the installation of automated doors.
A frequent criticism leveled against NYUAD is the apparent non-compliance with Section 504 of the ADA. As a U.S. American university, some campus residents argue that the campus, which endeavors to follow U.S. American university security protocol, should also follow ADA and its various requirements.
The legal considerations that apply to universities in the United States differ starkly from NYUAD. The original text of section 504 of ADA explains why:
“No otherwise handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in section 7(6), shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal assistance.”
As NYUAD is not in the United States, it is not legally bound to follow ADA and its numerous legal specifications.
NYUAD references the ADA when discussing the accommodation for disabled students, but it does not claim to fully follow or be bound by ADA compliance outside of acknowledging its existence. Regarding reasonable accommodation for the disabled at NYUAD the Student Portal states:
“To ensure that students' individual disability related needs are being met and to verify the need for reasonable accommodations, and consistent with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, NYUAD requires documentation of student disabilities when accommodations are requested.”
NYUAD has students with disabilities file claims for assistance identical to the ones in U.S. American universities in the United States. It does so “consistent with Section 504,” yet not subject to it. Although not legally compelled, the university looks to the ADA in other respects. NYUAD works with NYU New York’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities to “provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with documented disabilities … NYUAD encourages students to participate fully in all aspects of campus life.”
Ultimately, NYUAD is bound by Emirati law, specifically UAE Federal Law No. 29 of 2006, entitled Concerning the Rights of People with Special Needs. Under this law, the university is obliged to provide reasonable accommodation to the disabled; however, there are considerably less specifications on mandating disability access under the UAE law compared to its U.S. American counterpart.
In terms of NYUAD’s current accessibility, most students at the university acknowledge potential problems for the physically disabled. Ana Karneža, a freshman who navigates most of campus on an electric scooter, knows the level of campus accessibility better than most.
In general, Karneža finds the campus administration and staff to be very helpful with ensuring her ability to access NYUAD. Karneža discussed how the general availability of elevators and the lack of cobblestone streets significantly increased her freedom of movement at NYUAD as opposed to the universities at home in Slovenia.
Karneža has found the university receptive to her needs, except for the doors. In her own words: “Everything that I said I wanted — I needed — was adjusted and provided [by the university] ... It’s a very accommodative university. It’s just the automatization of the doors — it just needs to happen.”
Karneža made it clear how grateful she was to the university staff for their help. She clarified multiple times: “It’s not like I’m suffering that much — I don’t want to sound like this is the worst thing ever because, again, it’s a very accomodating university.” Nevertheless, her problems with the doors on campus remain a daily concern. Presently, Karneža expresses the necessity for staff around campus to open doors for her when not accompanied by friends. Although the elevators are convenient, their utility is diminished by the difficulty for Karneža to open the university’s heavy doors. This becomes a greater issue at night when most university staff leave. Karneža summarized the problems with the doors and the future of access at the school:
“On my own I can somehow push through it, but it’s really difficult, time-consuming and no one wants to go through that amount of pressure every time you go through a door … But other people might apply with disabilities … my disability isn’t that severe — I can still walk and do things … imagine if a student with really fantastic grades applies to this university and he/she cannot walk. That’s another story. For that person it would be really hard to accommodate.”
Residents across campus are working to streamline accessibility at NYUAD. On the student side, the Campus Life Policy Committee, which includes Nela Noll and Max Eckert, has taken the lead.
Discussing the parties currently involved in providing greater disability access on campus, Noll and Eckert mentioned multiple individuals within the faculty and members of the administration, including Dean of Students Kyle Farley and Vice Chancellor Al Bloom.
Nevertheless, the central point Noll and Eckert expressed was the importance of Tamkeen in executing any possible changes to campus infrastructure. In Noll’s words: “As far as I [understand], this issue is not in the hands of the administrators, but in the hands of Tamkeen. And the members of the administration are getting in contact with the members of Tamkeen that are in charge.”
Tamkeen must approve any significant changes to campus as the official owner of the university complex. Given the lack of binding laws necessitating automated doors in the UAE, there is little legal impetus for Tamkeen.
The Campus Life Policy Committee is currently working with Dean Farley and Al Bloom to speak with a liaison at Tamkeen and to become more involved in the conversation.
“It would be a courtesy of Tamkeen to extend their attention to the student body … [however] it is not a requirement by all means and I accept that," said Eckert.
Tom Klein is News Editor. Priyanka Lakhiani is Deputy News Editor. Email them at
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