Accessibility.... have I got a story for you!

Friday, October 07, 2011

 Photo credit: Jonathan Rausseo

Want to try a social experiment that will only take a moment but that could have a major impact on how you experience the campus? Cool, okay.... here we go. Close your eyes and try to walk around the campus.

It is not as easy as you might think. You will likely fumble around a little bit. You will likely take very cautious steps. And you might even freak out a little when you get to an actual intersection with cars that could hit you. Of course this is an experiment to make you realize how difficult it is for someone with visual impairments to navigate the campus. But if you really want to make it fair, you should go to a part of the City you have never been to and try out this little experiment. Because, actually, you already know the campus and have constructed a visual map in your mind of where everything is...

By the way, don't actually try this experiment unless you are with someone. I don't want anyone to get hurt.

No less than 3 times in the last month I have had meetings with campus community members about accessibility issues on campus. There are a tonne of things to deal with.... everything from the height of service counters (someone in a wheelchair might not find it so cool when the counter is like 2 feet above their heads) to automatic doors opening in the wrong direction (no cool if you are blind and a door smacks you in the face).

One conversation that struck me was  with Yolaine Ruel (Senior Policy Officer for Accessibility and Diversity for the University of Ottawa). Yolaine mentioned how much it annoyed her that individuals would block the path of a visually impaired person on campus with an obstruction. Not on purpose of course but there are a lot of things that can block you from getting to where you want to go (sandwich boards announcing food specials, service trucks emptying garbage bins, a table to announce a new program...).

Don't think this a big problem? Let's go back to our little experiment. You are walking down a path that you think you know pretty well (eyes closed). All of a sudden you bump into something... something big. You feel around... it seems like it's a table. A table? What is a table doing here.... wait a minute, am I actually where I think I am? Okay, I guess I will go around it. Whoops, okay I just stepped off the curbed... and into a puddle... great. Take a couple of steps... is this a car i am walking into?

Take a look at the picture above. Nice eh? Luckily this time the truck is actually parked in a way that if you were in a wheel chair, there is a curb you can navigate... that's not always the case though. And if you had a visual impairment... what the hell? Odds are you will  be feeling around to see how big the truck is and your reward is that you will likely hit all the pylons with your cane... maybe you'll trip over them.
So, does a truck even have the right to be here?

Yolaine has a pretty elegant solution for things like this... create a path around the campus where no one has the right to block the route. Actually, Yoloaine and the great crew over at the Centre for Students with Disabilities have a lot of cool ideas. You should visit them and get informed... and if you see an accessibility issue that you want something done about, send us an email.



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