Looking at Access Fee

By Sally Jade Powis

Students’ Union Vice-President Operations and Finance Gavin Preston wants to remove the Access Fee from future student fees, in accordance with his job description of ensuring appro- priate administration of SU funds in an efficient and productive manner.

Under the management of the Accessibility Levy Committee, and in conjunction with the Disability Resource Centre, the fee finances projects that remove physical and educational barriers on campus for students with disabilities. Full-time students pay $1.00 and part-time students pay $0.50.

"This year, the Accessibility Levy Committee will have nearly $90,000," said Preston. "Even if we try really hard, the most we would likely be able to spend is $20,000."

Alarmed by this staggering difference, Preston has suggested removing the Access Fee from the SU General Fees without destroying the program by building a reserve for all of the monies collected to date, and for a number of years to come. With an endowment fund, the interest gained each year alone may be enough to fund accessibility requirements around campus, such as ramps and automatic doors.

Merlin Keillor, Adaptive Technology Specialist with the DRC, has met with Preston to discuss the Access Fee.

"This sounds like an efficient strategy," said Keillor. "One day it may not be a fee, but there will still be a resource."

Keillor, along with the DRC Director Dr. Patricia Pardo, applauds the SU support of the U of C’s diverse student body.

"There is room for everyone to support diversity of the student population on campus. The Students’ Union, the Disability Resource Centre, as well as the university as a whole," said Dr. Pardo.

While acknowledging a resource must exist to provide students with physical and mental disabilities equal opportunities for an edu- cation, Preston is concerned who is fronting most of the costs. In particular, he is questioning the university’s moral and legal obligations for providing equal access to education.

Preston has found the university is required to ensure access to students with mental and physical disabilities, as defined by the Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act of Alberta. It must provide the infrastructure, technology and systems of management of duties for each disabled individual, with accommodation done to the point of undue hardship on the university. This point is calculated through, but not limited to, morale, the level of disruption of operations that will incur, and the size and financial ability of the organization.

"As a public service with about a $500 million budget, it is safe to say that the legal responsibility of the university to accommodate disabled students is quite high," said Preston.

For now though, it is business as usual, with the Access Fee remaining on the fee schedule.

Discussions are scheduled to continue between the DRC and the Accessibility Levy Committee.

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