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This is us...Andrew Ashby

This is us...Andrew Ashby

[photo of Andrew Ashby at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre]
Bernard Clark

Andrew Ashby, Accessibility Coordinator, Queen's Equity Office; Manager, Queen's Accessibility Hub 

Andrew Ashby,
Accessibility Coordinator, Queen’s Equity Office
Manager, Queen’s Accessibility Hub

"I advance the accessibility initiatives at Queen’s, especially those that stem from the AODA [Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act] and the coordination might involve  wrangling a bunch of stakeholders to get them in a room to come together and come up with a strategy or policy.

“The current standards of the AODA for the built environment came into full force in 2016 they apply to new builds and major renovations. Under the AODA, Queen’s isn’t required to re-fit the buildings that have been around for 175 years and make them accessible, unless we are going to renovate those buildings anyway. When working with older buildings and getting them up to current codes and accessibility standards, it’s a big job: it takes a big budget and it takes a lot of time.

“In new builds, they can incorporate accessibility into the design. But when things go over budget, you have to make sure that the proper accessible features that should be there aren’t cut. You don’t want to pay twice for something that should have been there on Day One."

One entrance for everybody

“In older buildings, and we see this at Queen’s, the accessible entrance might be at the back of the building, and there’s nothing really to indicate where people have to go. There’s quite a movement in new builds to not have both stairs and a ramp and just have one level access so that everybody uses the same entrance.”

Other accessibility issues on campus

“Bathrooms are an issue; having all-gender washrooms is an issue. Just having enough space; ensuring wide doorways, hallways that people can comfortably navigate and turn in, and find their way around. Being able to get from a study space to a washroom to a classroom. “In terms of emerging issues, we’re seeing a lot of requests for information and guidance for the use of service animals. It’s been across the education sector. We’ve seen that an increase in mental health issues – depression and anxiety, for example – have been big drivers of that, where using service animals may assist with reducing barriers around those issues. There’s been an increase in students coming to campus with service animals, into residence. The AODA doesn’t really give much guidance to our sector in this regard. If you own a business like a restaurant and someone with a service animal comes in for a short period of time, the AODA tells you what you need to know and do. But in a shared space where people live, work, and go to school, spending most of their day, we’re trying to figure out how to best serve our community.”

Online resources

“I manage and monitor the Accessibility Hub. The hub came about from the need to inform students about how to locate services: they had to go here and there and elsewhere. And then the same thing happened with employees. So the Equity Office and I saw the need to pull all that information into one website. That was created in 2013. It has information for students, faculty, staff, and visitors to Queen’s.”

Q: What has Queen’s done well in terms of accessibility?

“I think that attitudes have changed somewhat. There’s more of a recognition that we need to address the environment, as well. The traditional definition of ‘disability’ is very much a medical model, focusing on the disability in the individual. I think we’re starting to move toward a social model of disability and recognizing that the environment has a very large role in that. I always use myself as an example: I use a wheelchair and nowadays, it’s not really a barrier. But if I were to go to downtown Kingston, for example, I can only get into a handful of stores and restaurants. [That limitation] is certainly more on the environment than on me.”

Q: And where do we need to do more work?

“There’s always, for us – and for society in general – the virtual environments to consider. Social media, email, virtual communications, it’s important to make sure they are as accessible as possible and usable by more people. It’s going to take a lot more effort, I think, in what we are putting out there, and for whom. Who is our audience? Who benefits? In Kingston, as of the last census, we now have more people over the age of 65 than we do people 14 and under. So, of course, as you age, you are going to acquire disabilities. Accessibility increases usability for everyone.”

Q: What does inclusion mean to you?

I saw this on Twitter @VernaMyers, and it spoke to me:
'Diversity is being invited to party.
Inclusion is being asked to dance.’

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 3-2018]