Queen's University — Since 1873
25th October 2011

Volunteer can’t access campus building

The University and the AMS have halted the installment of a wheelchair lift due to funding constraints

Louise Bark says she hasn’t been able to return to her volunteer position at CFRC, located in the basement of Carruthers Hall, because it isn’t wheelchair accessible.
Louise Bark says she hasn’t been able to return to her volunteer position at CFRC, located in the basement of Carruthers Hall, because it isn’t wheelchair accessible. (Corey Lablans)

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Louise Bark hasn’t been able to return to her volunteer position at CFRC since April because the radio station’s office in the basement of Carruthers Hall isn’t wheelchair accessible.

Bark said she was told a portable wheelchair lift would be purchased for use in Carruthers Hall, but there hasn’t been any developments since she tested the device in April.

“I’m horrified it hasn’t come through,” she said.

Bark had volunteered with CFRC since Sept. 2010.

“To me, CFRC was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” she said. “There was so much community in there.”

Bark used to enter the building with help from her colleagues who would push her down the stairs in a manual wheelchair.

But, after CFRC talked with the Queen’s Accessibility Committee in Nov. 2010, Bark was told it was a liability for her to enter the building the way she had in the past.

“Basically I continued to try and be a satellite volunteer [after],” she said, adding that she’s since stopped because of technical issues associated with recording radio shows off campus.

Heidi Penning is an equity advisor and former co-ordinator of the Queen’s Accessibility Committee.

Penning said after the committee reviewed the application they worked with Physical Plant Services to present a proposal to Queen’s administration.

Before the project can go forward, it needs approval from both University administration and Physical Plant Services she said.

“There is still a responsibility of the University to acknowledge that there is a barrier, vis-a-vis this lift, or lack thereof,” Penning said.

“There’s always competing and seemingly more urgent interests.”

Since Carruthers Hall is a historic building, Penning said the University had to approach Kingston’s heritage committee before the temporary lift could be installed.

“The heritage committee had approved the installation,” she said.

Penning said providing accessible buildings is morally imperative.

“We forget that we have a little thing called the Ontario Human Rights Code and disability is one of the protected grounds,” she said. “The University and any other employer for that matter has a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.”

Ann Browne, associate vice-principal of facilities, said Carruthers Hall currently has an exterior elevator being installed which will provide access to the upper floors of the building.

“We have also looked at accessible access from the ground floor to the basement for CFRC — unfortunately the exterior lift did not work for this access issue,” she told the Journal via email.

Browne said no plans for the portable lift have moved forward since last spring.

“We did not have funding for this at the time,” she said.

CFRC was told that they should bring their concerns to Accessibility Queen’s — a committee within the AMS’s Social Issues Commission that has a budget to deal with improving accessibility in student buildings.

A subcommittee of Accessibility Queen’s was then tasked with dealing with the proposal for funding the lift.

The cost of the Garvante portable lift was approximately $16,000.

Katie Charboneau has been the co-chair of Accessibility Queen’s since 2007. She said when groups can’t get funding from the University, administrators “deflect” proposals to AMS’s Accessibility Queen’s.

“I know that basically if they can’t get funding [from] the University, they automatically come to us,” Charboneau, ArtSci ’12, said.

While CFRC is an AMS service, it’s located in the basement of a University-owned building.

“What I don’t understand is why the University isn’t giving them funding,” Charboneau said.

Accessibility Queen’s doesn’t yet have its budget for the year so Charboneau said it’s unclear what the next step will be for this project.

“If we can’t help them with the funding then we want to be able to help out in any way we can,” she said.

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