If you’ve strolled around campus lately, you likely didn’t have trouble getting around. But for those who don’t have the luxury of walking, maneuvering around campus is a struggle.
Granted, anyone can enter King’s campus, but it’s another story if you have class or want to visit someone in residence. There are steps everywhere, and even I find the one ramp tight and claustrophobic when the bushes are in bloom.
There are three elevators on campus – one in the New Academic Building (NAB), one in the Arts & Administration building (A&A) and one in Alex Hall – however, the elevator in the A&A doesn’t go to the top floor, and service to the third floor stops on weekends and after 5 p.m. on weekdays. To even get to the elevator in Alex Hall – which also doesn’t go to the top floor – you have to go up three steps, pull open the door, then go up or down a flight of stairs.
There are three doors with handicap push buttons on campus – one at the entrance of the A&A next to the elevator and meal hall, another at the entrance to the NAB and one at the library’s front doors.
In my first year of university, I spent several weeks on crutches after a knee operation, and just going from the basement of Alex Hall to the NAB with a backpack on was a small workout – and I’m a varsity athlete who had been on crutches before. It was also only a temporary thing.
For someone like Vicky Levack, a University of King’s College student with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, it’s tougher to say the least.
“Just going to a classroom itself, the classroom doors don’t have buttons, so I have to wait outside, kind of like a dog, until somebody’s close by and I can [ask if they could open the door for me],” Levack said.
She added that people are always happy to help, but she feels bad because she’d like to be able to access her education without help.
Levack says a possible simple solution for this would be to leave classroom doors open with a doorstop, as opposed to the more expensive option of getting automatic doors.
“My parents are paying vast amounts of money for me to go to school, therefore I should be able to access the school,” she said.
Levack had to take a couple of years off from school due to health reasons, but a friend told her about a vampire course offered at King’s. Levack’s friend encouraged her to audit it and said if she could handle that, then maybe she could pursue more of her education.
Levack didn’t take a campus visit before enrolling at King’s, but she says that wouldn’t have deterred her from coming because King’s “is a very artsy school, it had the programs [she] wanted and [she] could get in the building – it would just be more difficult.
“No school is 100 per cent accessible,” she added.
That said, she’s had some risky situations. Levack has night classes in the NAB, which she says usually gets out at around 9:15 p.m. However, when she tries pushing the wheelchair button to leave the building, it won’t work. By that time, it’s been shut off. Sometimes there’s someone around to help, but when there isn’t, she has to use her wheelchair to push the door open with brute strength. Levack says this is a delicate process because she could break the door, or herself.
She was also stuck on an elevator on Dalhousie campus because the button to call for help was too high for someone in a wheelchair to reach. Luckily, she had phone reception and was able to call a friend on campus for help, otherwise she “would’ve been screwed.”
Another thing for Levack is the message inaccessibility sends.
“For me, when there’s a building or facility that’s not accessible – especially when you’re paying – it’s like they’re saying: ‘We don’t want you here. You don’t belong here,’ or ‘We don’t want your money, you’re somehow lesser than the average person.’
“I know that’s probably not what they’re intending to say, but that’s what their actions say, and that’s very degrading and hurtful.”
“I just want to be able to go to school and not have to wait outside the door like a dog,” she said. “I pay just as much money as anybody else going to school, I should have access to services that everyone else does, without having to jump through two or three obstacles.”
Students aren’t the only ones affected by the lack of accessibility on campus. Vanessa Stephens, a former King’s student, used to live in Alex Hall. Her brother, Jordan, is in a wheelchair.
On move-in day of Vanessa’s first year at King’s, her family came to help her move into her room on the second floor of Alex Hall. They were told an elevator was inside for Jordan to use. After going over the three front steps and through the door, Jordan found out he had more stairs to deal with before reaching the elevator.
“This is bullshit,” he said bluntly.
According to both Vanessa and Jordan, they asked a security guard why the elevator was situated where it is and the security guard said it is only to help people carry bags.
The following year, Vanessa lived on the fourth floor of Alex Hall, where the elevator doesn’t reach. Jordan didn’t come visit because there were too many stairs.
Even if the elevator was meant for helping carry bags, people still have to climb the stairs to use it. However, Jordan raised the bigger concern regarding the stairs.
“Most people in wheelchairs aren’t strong enough to get up the stairs,” he said, though he isn’t one of them, as he plays sports such as wheelchair basketball competitively. He has also taught himself how to use stairs, just in case.
I showed Vanessa and Jordan the wheelchair ramp, which neither knew existed. Jordan said it’s tight, especially on the corners – the ramp is sort of shaped like a Z.
He explained that for someone in a manual wheelchair like his, it would be tight, but you’re at least able to maneuver yourself so that you can fit. However, he knows people who wouldn’t be able to use the ramp.
“I know someone who controls a power wheelchair with his head – he’s paralyzed from the neck down,” Jordan said. “His wheelchair is a lot wider than mine, so he’d be able to go straight on the ramp, but he’d get stuck on the turn.”
It’s worth noting that I showed Vanessa and Jordan the ramp at roughly 8:30 p.m. on Mar. 20 after a snowfall the night before, and the ramp still hadn’t been cleared of snow.
All that said, the Campus Master Plan 2016 says “accessibility is the highest priority facilities requirement,” and these changes are scheduled to come soon, specifically to Alex Hall.
Right now, because all of the residences are so old, they don’t meet the building code requirements for accessibility. “There is also a moral and social imperative to improve access,” the document says.
Code says not all residences need to be accessible to meet the requirement and after comparing the structural designs of the Bays and Alex Hall, the latter has been chosen as the accessible residence.
Changes to come will include making an exterior ramp, installing a chairlift on the first floor, and modifying the rooms and washrooms on the first floor of the east wing to accessible standards. The design of the chairlift will be determined after finding out which design best suits students’ needs.
According to the CMP, the cost is estimated to be about $0.5 million, but these types of projects are attractive for government grants or incentives.
These improvements were supposed to be made in 2016. Unfortunately, however, nothing appears to have been started.
These accessibility changes are desperately needed, because as Vicky Levack says: “Everybody can walk up a ramp. Not everybody can walk up a flight of stairs.”