Accessibility Queen’s finds funds

AMS-SGPS committee learned this week it has more than $250,000 to spend on accessibility and awareness projects

Michael McNeely, Accessibility Queen’s chair (second from right), says his committee’s first capital project will be building a lift to make the second floor of the Grey House accessible.
Michael McNeely, Accessibility Queen’s chair (second from right), says his committee’s first capital project will be building a lift to make the second floor of the Grey House accessible.
Photo: 

Poor transitioning and mismanagement of the Accessibility Queen’s (AQ) fund in the past few years has led to a surplus of more than $250,000 for this year’s committee to spend on accessibility projects.

“It had just sort of gotten lost,” Vice-President (University Affairs) Adam Zabrodski said. “Last year, the chairs of Accessibility Queen’s thought they only had $50,000 to spend.”

As a result, the committee didn’t complete any major capital projects, which can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

Zabrodski said he learned about the money in the fund when the JDUC committee brought up a proposal to build an elevator or lift in the Grey House near the end of the last AMS executive’s term.

Seven student organizations, including the Women’s Centre, Education on Queer Issues Project, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Canadian Unified Students Environmental Network, Amnesty International, Students for Literacy and Helping Hands Association operate in the Grey House.

They asked AQ to help fund the project and were told there wasn’t enough in the fund.

“Right now there’s a ramp that makes the first floor of the Grey House accessible,” Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) Equity Commissioner Usman Mushtaq said. “The second and third floors of the Grey House aren’t accessible through any means for people with wheelchairs, strollers.”

After requesting previous years’ financial statements, the SGPS found there was a $268,386.36 balance in the 2009-10 budget.

Graduate students contribute about 20 per cent of the AQ fund, which is made up of undergraduate and graduate mandatory fees, Mushtaq said.

“Up until now, we haven’t even had any sort of idea of what kind of money there is in the fund,” he said.

“For us, it sort of came out of the blue,” Zabrodski said. “The clubs in the Grey House and the SGPS, who knew a lot more than we did, were sort of getting frustrated with the lack of action that the AMS was taking.”

The AMS has been looking over the lift proposal since learning about it in June, he said.

“As soon as we sort of got wind of the concerns, we’ve actually been working very diligently to resolve this,” he said. “We’re actually pretty keen on it.”

Physical Plant Services estimates the lift in the Grey House will cost about $110,000, he said, adding that the proposal has to be approved by the AMS Board of Directors before it can go ahead.

“Currently, we’re just waiting on Board approval.”

The SGPS also found two figures that were unaccounted for—$5,000 in administrative fees and $100,000 listed as “AMS Bursary/Endowment” in the 2007-08 actual expenses.

The AMS executive didn’t know what the money had been used for and had to spend some time going through previous years’ financial statements, Zabrodski said.

“That was two years ago, [Vice-President (University Affairs)] Julia [Mitchell] signed off on that and between the transition from Julia to [Vice-President (University Affairs)] Stephanie [St. Clair] and Steph to me, these things sort of get lost,” he said. “We had to talk to [AMS General Manager] Claude [Sherren] to say, ‘So where did this money go?’”

The $100,000 was given to Student Awards in 2007-08 as an endowment bursary for students with disabilities, AMS Social Issues Commissioner Samantha Boyce said.

“It’s basically for students who aren’t eligible for funding through OSAP [the Ontario Student Assistance Program] for students with disabilities,” she said. “It sort of fills in the gap where some students might fall through in terms of funding.”

All of the figures are explained in the AMS’s annual report, Boyce added.

The $5,000 in administrative fees is standard among AMS funds, Zabrodski said.

“They’re subject to our administrative fee for accountants, administrative assistants, just sort of running the office because they’re the ones who sort of have to oversee it,” he said.

This year, the AMS will look at re-writing the policy surrounding the AQ fund to make it more accountable, Boyce said.

“We’ve had a meeting with the SGPS and with Jeannette Parsons, the University’s accessibility co-ordinator, and essentially we sat down and looked at these numbers and looked at our policy and they brought up some of the concerns they had,” she said.

The AMS may require an annual report from AQ to keep a better check on numbers, Boyce said.

The AQ chairs will also have to be kept up to date about their fund, she said.

“There’s been some confusion in the past.”

The SGPS will also have a place on the committee that decides where the AQ funds go, Zabrodski said.

“They absolutely deserve a place on the committee,” he said, adding that it was their persistence in pushing for a lift in the Grey House that caused the AMS to look more closely at AQ’s financials.

The confusion over the fund and how to manage it shows that accessibility isn’t always at the forefront of people’s minds, AQ committee chair Michael McNeely said.

He said he found out about the amount in the fund this week.

“I was amazed and I personally felt bad that we hadn’t been spending the majority of our funds to help students in previous years,” he said. “That’s why things have been slow to change in some instances.”

Aside from the lift project, the committee hasn’t decided what to do with the rest of the money, he said.

“Even though that seems like a lot of money, it’s not,” he said. “What we need to do is strategically decide where to spend the money where it can do the most good.”

McNeely said the committee wants students and University staff to send in their proposals for projects they would like to see.

“It’s really up to students to say, ‘We want to have this.’”

McNeely said the committee also wants to promote awareness about learning disabilities and invisible disabilities, such as dyslexia and mental health issues, which aren’t always physically apparent.

“From my experience, there’s a closet mentality for first years; they don’t want to let their classmates know they have a disability,” he said. “More people have to be at the point where they’re comfortable saying they have disabilities and they may need help with something.” —With files from Michael Woods

Students can e-mail project proposals and ideas to accessibility@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.