The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UC needs to be more accessible for nonverbal students

3 min read

The top of the UC's adjustments to the pandemic make it harder for nonverbal or anxious students to get food. | umw.edu

By PRIYA PATEL

Staff Writer

Ever since the fall 2020 semester, the dining hall has had to make changes in order to follow social distancing guidelines. Although these changes were necessary to keep everyone safe, they have introduced a new problem that many people might not have even noticed. 

Before these changes, there were certain stations at the dining hall where food was put out on plates as it was made, and students could pick up what they wanted without speaking a word to anyone. Now, in order to limit contact between the server and the customers, food can no longer be put out like this. This means that no matter which station a student gets their food from, it is necessary to tell the person serving at that station what they want to eat.

This presents a problem for anyone who has trouble speaking in general, or just trouble ordering food specifically. There are many reasons why someone might have trouble speaking. There are people who are nonverbal, semi-verbal, unconfident in their English or have social anxiety. However, the reason why shouldn’t matter. Eating on campus should not have to be a stressful situation for anyone. It might not be possible to completely eliminate stress related to picking up food, but it is definitely possible to do more for these people.

One option would be to have a way for customers to write down what they want. There could be small pieces of paper either at the entrance to the dining hall or at each station for this purpose. After writing, the paper could be turned and shown to the server through the plexiglass dividers.

Another option, which is also probably the better option, would be to put some sort of signage on the plexiglass dividers that indicate the different foods being served at that station. With this in place, instead of saying their order aloud, one could simply point at the signs and indicate each thing they want. 

Although the first option is better than nothing, this second option would be better for a couple reasons. It is less wasteful because there wouldn’t need to be so much paper and it also saves the time it takes to write out an order.

These are just a few examples of ways the dining hall could be made more accessible and it would not only benefit the previously mentioned groups of people with difficulties ordering food, but it could also be helpful when the dining hall is loud and it is difficult for the server to hear the customers.

With the current situation, depending on the severity of the reason someone has trouble ordering food, they might prefer to skip meals instead of going through that process every day. The retail dining locations have always required ordering aloud and the dining hall used to be the only option for some people to get food without speaking. Now that the dining hall no longer makes it possible to eat without speaking, meals have become an unnecessarily stressful part of campus life during an already overly stressful time to be a college student.

The nature of this problem makes it difficult to be aware of. After all, someone with difficulty ordering food is also unlikely to speak out about a problem they are having. In order for something to be done about this problem, people need to first become more aware that a problem exists. The university needs to realize the importance of making campus dining accessible to anyone who for any reason has trouble ordering food aloud. If more people were aware of this problem, solving it would be easy and unlikely to be controversial.

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