Toward a more accessible physical campus

Toward a more accessible physical campus

January 21, 2013


Student Lisa Figge on her mobility scooter. Photo by K. Hardy.

When the obvious way into a building is through a door at the top of a set of stairs, student Lisa Figge says she may as well be facing a window or a wall. “If you can’t get up the stairs to reach it, then it’s not a door anymore,” she explains. Ms Figge, who is pursuing a PhD in Cultural Studies, has been using a mobility scooter to get around for more than two years. Before that, she was able to get around campus by foot.

That contrast makes her acutely aware of the challenges of the physical or built environment, and how it amplifies mobility differences. “Often I have to go all the way around a building to find a ramp, and I am separated out from everyone else,” she explains. “When you’re walking, you just don’t have to think about the built environment so rigorously.”

A newly formed campus working group wants to minimize the amount of time students like Ms Figge have to think about them, too. Jo-Anne Brady, Vice-Provost (Planning and Budgeting), leads the group dedicated to looking at the university’s built environment from an accessibility standpoint. While Queen’s needs to meet its obligations under the province’s Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the university is committed to establishing an accessible and inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome, no matter how they get around.

“We have to strive to make sure that accessibility is fully integrated into campus planning,” Ms Brady explains. “We have to make sure that everyone can have access to what they need in a dignified manner.”

Audrey Kobayashi (Geography) is a member of the working group. As a wheelchair user, Dr. Kobayashi has had to contend with campus elevators too small to accommodate her chair, or not being able to get to the front of a lecture hall where she’s supposed to be teaching.

“The fact is that we live with an inherited landscape, from a time when people didn’t think about things like accessibility,” say Dr. Kobayashi. “Besides installing ramps, elevators and buttons for opening doors, incorporating accessibility means looking at pathways designed for the blind, alarms that can be heard by the deaf, and classrooms and offices that can be accessed by everyone.”

While she admits it’s a daunting and expensive task, Dr. Kobayashi’s outlook is optimistic. “We have a long way to go, but I’d say we are more-or-less on the right road.”

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.

Members of the Queen’s community are invited to learn more about accessible program and course delivery under the AODA at an Accessibility Café hosted by the Equity Office. It takes place on Wednesday, January 23, 2013, from 11:30 am to 12:30pm at Speaker’s Corner in Stauffer Library.