Accessibility a ‘growing process’

‘Little by little’ changes being made to improve physical accessibility on both Laurier campuses

Photo by Jody Waardenberg
Photo by Jody Waardenberg

Physical accessibility on Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus isn’t perfect, but according to Gary Nower, it’s a constant growing process.

Nower, Laurier’s assistant vice-president of physical resources, stressed that with Waterloo’s campus being over 100 years old, there are areas the university is consistently working on to make it more accessible.

“I think the university has taken a lot of steps in the last four, five, six years to improve accessibility and there are some areas that because of the construction of the building and the different [levels] … it wasn’t constructed with universal standards in mind,” he explained.

Notably, the walkway between the Arts building and the Peters building near the Laurier International office only has stairs and no accessible path. This is one of Nower’s main focuses.

Physical resources, alongside the Diversity and Equity Office and the Accessible Learning Centre, are working together to ensure all the accessible issues throughout campus are addressed and fixed as efficiently as possible.

Lynn Kane, employment equity and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act officer, explained that the relationship allows all parties to see campus through multiple lenses and come to the conclusion on the best methods and practices to make Laurier more accessible.

“Faculty, staff and some students would come to me with accessibility concerns. Students, especially, would go to the Accessible Learning Centre with concerns and physical resources see it through a [new perspective] as well and [focus on] all of the updates,” she said.

“Having those relationships means that it doesn’t get left on one person’s table; it’s a shared accountability for it.”

Projects that have come to the attention of Nower and Kane include new building projects such as the Library, the Little House redesign, the Global Innovation Exchange building, the Wellness Centre as well as the YMCA building in Brantford.

They’ve also heard concerns about certain doors not having automatic door openers and the need for a power-operated door in the Graduate Students’ Association office.

Both of those issues have since been fixed.

Nower noted the Library redesign, which was approximately a $900,000 project, had accessibility in mind.

The ramp in the front was redone because the ramp beforehand was reportedly “inadequate.”

Physical resources has also put in ramps, added elevators and made common spaces such as the Quad more accessible.

“There are not always big alterations, so we haven’t done a ‘let’s fix all of the problems at once,’ but little by little, changes are being made,” Kane said.

With universal standards in place, every renovation physical resources puts money into will focus on making the university more accessible for all students.

Because of how new Laurier’s Brantford campus is, the city already has strict guidelines around accessibility.

“Anything we do, we add accessibility into it,” Nower said.

“But that’s not to say that it’s perfect by any extent.”

Although Kane and Nower emphasized their efforts to make Laurier a more accessible campus, Kane stressed that it’s hard to assume the challenges.

“I don’t live it on a daily basis, trying to get around accessibility barriers,” she said.

“As an able person, I don’t see all of the challenges.”

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