Queen's University

Working groups address accessibility issues

 
2013-01-07

Justine Fehr recalls being judged simply for taking the elevator up one floor. The student, who suffers from a chronic pain condition as a result of knee surgery, has days when she can’t fathom walking up a flight of stairs.

“The pain never goes away,” she explains, “even when I’m sleeping.” But Ms Fehr’s pain isn’t something other people can see. That’s why strangers’ jokes about her being “lazy” for needing a lift are particularly hurtful.

Setting people straight about “invisible disabilities” like her own is just one reason Ms Fehr has joined a newly formed working group whose goal is to tackle accessibility issues on campus. The provincial government’s Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislates that all public institutions, including universities, be fully accessible to everyone by 2025. An important component of that strategy is in making the campus community more aware of disability issues.

Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research with the Faculty of Education, leads the working group dedicated to issues of education, training and awareness. Her group is focused on finding more ways not only to educate the Queen’s community about accessibility issues in general, but also to let people know about the provincial legislation.

“We’re talking about things like universal design for learning,” Dr. Luce-Kapler explains. “For example, what can educators do to make their course materials more accessible.” She cites one of her own former students, who has severe hearing and sight impairments, as an example. “Accessibility meant making sure materials were available to him before class, that I had Power Point presentations that met his needs, and that my web materials were accessible, too.”

Shannon Hill, a Learning and Development Specialist with the Department of Human Resources, stresses that accessibility means that nobody should be restricted from teaching, learning or working at Queen’s, no matter what their needs are. “We don’t always notice how many obstacles there are,” she says. “Education means helping people to understand why we need to accommodate all forms of disability, and what a difference it will make.”

For Ms Fehr, who is also the Chair of Queen’s Invisibilities, an AMS-ratified student group on campus, says any efforts that helps raise awareness about disability – both the obvious and the less apparent – is a step in the right direction. “It could be any student, or any professor,” she says. “Anyone can be affected, and you should reserve judgment until you know more.”

This article is part of a series about Queen’s University’s five accessibility working groups. These groups are seeking to improve accessibility on campus through the Queen’s accessibility framework, which was approved in December 2011. The framework addresses the Ontario government’s Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation, which mandates that all public institutions be fully accessible by 2025.

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