30th March 2012

Forum looks to improve accessibility on campus

Equity advisor Heidi Penning says concerns will be published in a public document by end of semester

Suggestions to improve Queen’s accessibility included allowing private housing accommodation.
Suggestions to improve Queen’s accessibility included allowing private housing accommodation. (Corey Lablans)

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In honour of Disability Awareness Month, the Equity Office held a town hall meeting at Robert Sutherland Hall on Wednesday to facilitate discussion on issues surrounding accessibility at Queen’s.

The event spearheaded by Equity Advisor Heidi Penning aimed to engage community members in brainstorming strategies on how to make Queen’s a more accessible institution.

“The primary goal is hopefully that the people leaving these two hours are recommitted to a sense of purpose around building an inclusive community with a shared purpose and shared responsibility so that accessibility doesn’t reside solely in the Equity Office,” Penning said.

After breaking out into work groups focusing on each of these themes, those attending proposed solutions to accessibility concerns at Queen’s.

Penning said the point of the town hall was to encourage discussion and the sharing of past issues from participants in order to begin the implementation of the framework.

“We need to hear of these stories in order to plan that they don’t happen again in the future,” she said.

Concerned parents brought up issues in allowing for private housing accommodation for those with disabilities or facilitating tours around campus, which are more sensitive to the needs of those with disabilities.

Others called for a need to create more discussion amongst students and faculty members on campus around issues of disability. The University’s major goals are laid out in the Queen’s Accessibility Framework, a document designed to reflect the main tenets of the Accessibilities for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) on campus.

The document focuses on five key aspects that affect accessibility — customer service, information and communications, employment, built environment and education.

Penning and her co-workers aimed to inspire those attending the town hall, a mix of community members, students and faculty, to reflect on how to improve in each of these areas at Queen’s.

In Dec. 2011, a new accessibility framework was approved and aims to encourage the Queen’s community to achieve accessibility goals combined with fiscal responsibility.

There are four main goals listed, including developing plans, establishing shared accountability and responsibility, providing educational opportunities on accessibility awareness and continuing efforts to incorporate accessibility issues in university initiatives.

The organizers of the event hope to maintain an ongoing conversation on campus through more town hall meetings of the same nature.

“If they’ve got ideas, we have an open door policy. My goal is to keep the community informed, so that they’re consulted and collaborated with,” Penning said.

As Jennifer Dutra, MA ’11 said, students with disabilities like herself oftentimes have to actively seek out help without much guidance.

“People may question whether or not you have a disability,” Dutra said.

While this experience may be alienating, Dutra also outlined some of the positive steps people can take to help those with disabilities.

“One of the things one of my professors did was disclose to me that she’d worked with people with disabilities in the past, and that they’re successful today,” she said. “That gave me a little bit of a positive space to say, ‘I can have a conversation with you.’ ”

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