Students pay for university accessibility upgrades

By Andrew Ross

The University of Calgary Students’ Union is paying for accessibility upgrades around campus, some of which are the legal responsibility of the university.

The SU’s budget for accessibility projects is generated by the SU access fee ($1 from every full-time student and $0.50 from every part-time student per session), and unofficial estimates of the size of this fund range from $83,000 to $88,000. The intent of this fund, according to SU Vice-president Operations Matt Lauzon, is to "enhance over and above what the university is obliged to do."

However, SU records from the last three years indicate the fund was also used for such things as a desk suitable for use with a wheelchair, turnstile entrance and exit gates, automatic doors, and magnetic door holders. Notably, none of these were for MacEwan Hall–an SU-owned building–but rather for buildings such as Education, Earth Science, Social Science, Engineering and MacKimmie Library. Accessibility infrastructure on campus is a legal obligation of the university, not the Students’ Union. Lauzon noted that the university is "legally required to provide for the needs of all of its students."

Merlin Keillor, Technical Resource Specialist for the Disability Resource Centre, emphasized the need to improve accessibility on campus.

"Many of our older buildings don’t have electronic doors," he said. "In the whole Engineering block, there are only two electronic doors, and the main doors are double, heavy, wooden doors."

He also noted that while many doorways and bathrooms across campus need upgrading, "[an electronic] door can run $10,000." Keillor was also concerned about the uneven state of sidewalks around campus.

"This year [the university administration] is contributing $100,000 to accessibility issues," said Lauzon.

Hugh Gibbins, Chair of the Committee on Issues for Students With Disabilities-Campus Accessibility Subcommittee, said his committee was not informed of the university’s contribution until the week after the town hall meeting.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has changed in the last week, but I’m very happy that it has," Gibbins said. "I also hope that that money is not just a one-year stopgap."

"My understanding is that this [funding] is a one-time thing, to do a lot of things, to get up to code," said SU Academic Commissioner Nic Porco.

When asked if he thought administration reacted to prevent a public outcry, Gibbins said it was likely.
"It does seem like that," he said. "We [the committee] certainly didn’t know anything about it."

Harry Drummond, who oversees university accessibility, could not be reached for comment.