Our posts this month have engaged in conversation about what accessibility is and how Queen’s has been involved in improving accessibility. Queen’s has been making a number of great efforts to make its resources accessible to all students. But what about off-campus life? Just as it is important for students to have access to resources on campus, they also need to be able to find accommodations that meet their needs. Lisa Figge is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s whose research and art practice engages with disability and who requires a mobility scooter to be mobile. I had the opportunity to discuss with her the experience of finding accessible accommodations in Kingston. In this post, you will learn about some of the issues involved in finding accessible housing in Kingston—especially ones that are not always obvious to someone who has not faced barriers to physical accessibility. For the reader who has lived with such accessibility issues, this post will also offer some recommendations from Lisa on how to go about finding accessible housing in Kingston.
Accessible housing in Kingston is in short supply. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act outlines regulations for ensuring that public spaces are accessible; however, it does not require landlords or rental agencies to provide accessible accommodations. When Lisa was searching for an apartment in Kingston for the first time last summer, her first barrier was being able to find an apartment that simply claimed to be accessible. However, although some apartment listings have a check box indicating whether or not an apartment is “accessible,” accessibility is a term that is poorly defined. For those who have not been affected by physical accessibility issues, certain aspects of a building’s infrastructure simply do not register as barriers. After confirming with landlords that there were no stairs, Lisa would often arrive to learn that there were steps, and as Lisa explained, “Even one step is enough to keep you out.” Here is a link to a video clip that Lisa recorded as part of her art practice which illustrates an issue of accessibility that is a regular part of her life.
Getting help in finding accessible housing was another substantial barrier. Lisa searched for organizations and other resources that could assist in finding accessible housing, but she learned that there were none that were equipped to point her in any specific direction. Queen’s University Town Gown Relations, a department charged with the task of bridging the relationship between Queen’s students and the Kingston community, was one avenue that may have been fruitful, but Lisa was unable to set up a meeting.
Advice when Searching for Accessible Housing in Kingston
So, what should someone with accessibility issues keep in mind when coming to Kingston, and what can help when looking for accessible housing? I asked Lisa if she could share any advice that may help our readers who are interested in coming to Queen’s find accessible housing. Her first message was that Kingston is currently a hard place for an individual with a disability to live. She said that her experience has been that people in Kingston are sympathetic to accessibility issues and are willing to engage in discourse, but in many cases the city is not yet ready to make the infrastructural changes (sometimes, interestingly, for reasons of preserving “heritage” through their storefront appearances—the businesses surrounding Market Square are prohibited from installing ramps for this reason). She recommended that you ask prospective landlords specific questions that target your needs before visiting an apartment. Three simple questions that Lisa has learned to ask are: (1) Are there steps? (2) Is there a bathroom I can use with my mobility scooter? (3) Does the bathroom have grab bars?
For those who are interested in learning more on this topic, Lisa has recommended Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Disability as an introduction to some of the fundamental issues that people with disabilities face.
If you would like to share your personal experiences with accessible housing, and if you have any suggestions or resources that may help other readers, please feel free to take a moment to jot them down in the comments section below.