Accessing awareness at Queen’s

Bicycles obstruct ramp access for people with mobility limitations

Ramps used for locking up bicycles can make campus inaccessible.
Ramps used for locking up bicycles can make campus inaccessible.

The construction near Bracken Health Sciences Library has raised questions of accessibility around campus.

Anne O’Riordan, occupational therapist, and Queen’s lecturer said she left Bracken Library last Tuesday after a meeting with a colleague of hers. The colleague, Bill Meyerman, was in a wheelchair and the ramp down to street level wasn’t available for him to use.

“It was a meeting for our steering committee [for the Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice (OIPEP)] and on that committee we have two patient representatives, as well as representatives from medicine, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, nursing and X-Ray Technology,” she said. “Bill and I came out of Bracken Library. Near that area there is currently construction so it’s difficult for people with mobility limitations to get by in that area.” There is a ramp located on Stuart Street for people in wheelchairs to access after they’ve exited the building.

“If you’re a wheelchair user, you must exit by the side entrance through a door with confusing signage … the first time I used it, I thought the fire alarm might go off,” she said. “When we got to the ramp there were bicycles chained to both sides of the ramp, making it potentially inaccessible. The railings are there to help people, not to be used as a bicycle rack.” O’Riordan said she doubts that whoever locked their bike on the railing had any bad intentions.

“Oftentimes people act without really understanding the results of their actions, and this could apply to anyone, I doubt that people who had chained their bike to the ramp had meant any harm,” she said. “[Meyerman] didn’t seem fazed by it and seemed to shrug it off. He sees these kinds of things all the time.” O’Riordan said she knew if she ignored the situation it would happen again.

She said she immediately contacted Jeannette Parsons who was the last year’s on-campus Accessibility Coordinator.

“She suggested I call Fixit and told me that the campus policy was to ensure accessibility and that the locks of any bicycles blocking ramps or limiting accessibility could be cut off,” she said.

O’Riordan said that the locks from the bikes were cut off, and stickers were put on the ramp to remind people not to block the ramp but that further action should be directed towards awareness initiatives.

“Cutting the bike locks might have really infuriated the students and not have had a positive effect. I think awareness about the issue would be able to bring about a more positive change,” she said.

“If people were aware of the fact that this action could potentially prevent someone else’s accessibility I’m sure they would have found another place,” she said, adding that the day after the stickers were put up bikes were still on the outside of the ramp but not on the inside.

O’Riordan she hopes that students will look at accessibility ramps and entrances in a new way and respect the reason they are there.

“Students are agents of change, if a student strongly believes in something, the change will occur much quicker,” she said “Accessibility is everyone’s right … it levels the playing field for everybody and it makes life easier for everyone,” she said.

Because Kingston is such an old city, it presents some unique challenges though. “We have a lot of beautiful limestone buildings here, but they’re old,” she said. “These buildings, when they were built, weren’t built with accessibility in mind. It’s not just a problem on campus, I know some people who aren’t able to use washrooms or even go into stores downtown because the buildings are not user-friendly for individuals with mobility aids.” Bill Meyerman said he’s fairly accustomed to this sort of thing.

“Kingston is an older city and you expect those kinds of problems. Moving from Toronto 21 years ago it’s like I’ve gone back in time, but that’s because the city is so old. And it’s the financial end of it that you have to realize at the end of the day,” he said. “Not all buildings are going to be accessible because it would be too expensive or some cannot be made accessible because the building is too old.” He said he’s encountered a number of accessibility barriers and the incident last Tuesday isn’t one he took to heart.

“There was a time when we didn’t have ramps. It wouldn’t have been a huge issue if Anne hadn’t been there,” he said. “I would have barreled through the ramp and wrecked the bike, because that would have been the only way for me to cross it. Or I would have looked around to see if anyone was there for help.” Meyerman said two days after the incident when he returned to Queen’s there were stickers on the ramp saying, ‘no bikes.’

“48-hours is really quick turnaround point,” he said.

AMS Social Issues Commissioner [SIC] Daniella Dávila said the AMS is trying to raise awareness about accessibility.

“Within the Social Issues Commission, we have two committees that are focused on accessibility. They are about basically getting the student voice for disabilities out,” she said, adding that one of the committees, Accessibility Queen’s, receives funding at the beginning of the year, which the committee later allocates for capital projects around campus.

Dávila said the Accessibility Queen’s community also does different events during the school year to raise awareness about the lack of accessibility that exists on campus and how it affects students with disabilities. “Able, the new [SIC] publication ... is essentially a publication that intends to publish students with disabilities in an attempt to address the experiences of students with disabilities at Queen’s,” she said.

“The onus is on the environment. It’s not that the student has a disability, it’s that the environment is disabling rather than inaccessible.”

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