Towards a more accessible campus

The University needs to do more for people with disabilities, professor says

Geography professor Audrey Kobayashi said renovations like this wheelchair lift make Mackintosh-Corry more accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Geography professor Audrey Kobayashi said renovations like this wheelchair lift make Mackintosh-Corry more accessible to people with physical disabilities.

When geography professor Audrey Kobayashi returned to Queen’s four years ago after months in the hospital, she got a rude awakening: because she was in a wheelchair, she couldn’t get into many campus buildings, including her own office and many of her classrooms in Mackintosh-Corry Hall.

“The more difficult part was encountering barriers,” she said. “The main thing was suddenly finding out that I couldn’t use my office and I couldn’t get into my classroom … That’s difficult.”

Kobayashi said then-principal William Leggett was very helpful when she approached him with her requests, saying that everything was done on a case-by-case basis.

When it came to her lecture hall at room B201 in Mac-Corry, gaining accessibility was a bit more difficult, because it was only accessible from the back.

“I said I can’t teach from the back of the room … then they cut open the store room that was at the back of the room, and put a ramp, [as well as an] automatic door opener.” Today, Kobayashi said, the building is much more accessible.

“In general the University is on the right track,” she said. “With the attitude barrier, we have turned a corner. With the financial barrier, there are buildings that could be accessible if we had more funding.”

Kobayashi cited Kingston and Watson Halls as examples of buildings on campus in need of improvement.

Both of the buildings are equipped with elevators, but neither of them is substantial enough for Kobayashi’s scooter or electric wheelchair.

“Kingston Hall is difficult. Watson Hall is simply hopeless,” Kobayashi said, adding that she couldn’t attend a talk on the fifth floor of Watson Hall because of it.

Kobayashi said there’s also a “heritage barrier”: a reluctance to instigate accessibility construction out of a desire to preserve the aesthetics of old buildings like Ontario Hall.

Even when something is labelled “accessible,” it can still be insufficient, Kobayashi said.

“For example, in an accessible washroom stall, if the door swings in and the stall is too small, you can’t close the door once you get in. So it’s not accessible.

“There is often a willingness to do things, but the workers are not always the same ones, and sometimes they don’t know how to do it.”

Kobayashi said she would like to see some improvement in student awareness.

“Most students are at an age where they can’t imagine being disabled,” Kobayashi said. “I think it has to start from day one of your university education … student leaders, I think, have a responsibility there.” During frosh leader training in September, Kobayashi worked with leaders to ensure that peer training is done.

“I think ASUS is doing a tremendous job. I had such a good session with them,” she said.

However, in some cases Kobayashi was met with less than favourable reception. When she was in a session with other faculties—predominantly engineering students—she said they were “absolutely hostile and quite rude” towards her.

“Some of them called me names,” she said. “Now SOARB [the Senate Orientation Activities Review Board] is looking into it.” Barbara Roberts, disability advisor with Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), is working on an accessibility plan for the University.

“We’re developing an accessibility audit plan so that people will have the ability to audit their areas,” she said. “It won’t be a reaction to a problem, but a more proactive approach in looking at how you can improve department by department.”

This summer, the University completed four projects to enhance campus accessibility using funds from the AMS Accessibility Fund.

Physical Plant Services constructed accessible washrooms in Dupuis Hall near the auditorium that included two door openers, two sets of double door openers in Policy Studies 202, and another door opener at Jeffery Hall.

This year, Roberts said, six buildings were made more wheelchair accessible and were given more accessible washrooms.

Plans are also in place to make the International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle more wheelchair accessible, and to make University websites more accessible to people with vision impairments or text disabilities.

“There’s an ongoing review of websites and progress to be sure that they are and continue to be accessible with feedback going to departments,” she said.

As well, the Centre of Teaching and Learning is working to develop more accessible teaching and lecturing strategies.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Office is planning numerous education or training events to raise awareness about disabilities.

Roberts said it’s impossible to say the University is doing “enough” to improve disability.

“It’s never enough because there’s still needs out there, so … I think we do a lot. I think people work really hard to improve [accessibility], but it’s a sort of endlessly evolving target and because you’re not just talking about getting a ramp or an elevator in every building,” she said. “There’s are all kinds of access to consider; you can never really say that you’re done.”

The last project, a wheelchair lift at Grant Hall, is not yet completed, said John Garrah, Physical Plan Services project manager.

“I’m waiting for a part to be installed in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Garrah said accessibility construction is a University priority.

“It does get funded quite often now. If you request it, it’s going to get funded.”

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