Opinion: U of T’s gyms aren’t accessible to all

An analysis of the accessibility services at the St. George campus facilities

Opinion: U of T’s gyms aren’t accessible to all

U of T’s St. George campus offers lots of athletics facilities to help you work up a sweat. The Hart House gym, Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, and Athletic Centre (AC) collectively offer anything a gym rat could dream of for getting active. However, one question must be asked: are these gyms accessible for all?

First, let’s look into Hart House, U of T’s multidisciplinary space. On its website, Hart House states that it “is proud of [its] continued effort to facilitate the inclusion of campus and community members of all abilities into [its] facilities and services.” Implemented measures in the building include elevator access to all floors, some accessible washrooms, lower counters, accessible doorways, and some barrier-free building entrances.

However, Hart House seems to be lacking some gym-specific accessibility amenities. The change rooms are not easy to get to, as they require a trip down some stairs. The facility layout on the whole is also difficult to maneuver, featuring many staircases, narrow hallways, and confusing layouts. Furthermore, the top floor, which boasts a track that encircles some cardio and weight machines, is crowded with equipment. Luckily, there is usually a lot of staff around who are ready to help, but nevertheless the disjointed layout leaves much to be desired.

The Goldring Centre is next on our list. This gym notably  features an elevator, automatic doors, and accessible entrance gates when you scan your T-Card, in addition to the regular turnstiles. Accessible change rooms are on the second floor, and there are also alternate change rooms available to cater directly to those with specific needs: there are accessible, all-gender, and family change rooms, all with shower and washroom amenities. Goldring is also well-staffed, meaning there will always be someone nearby to help if something is out of reach, or if you need help with a machine. The facilities are also very well-kept and state-of-the-art, however, the main gym consists of three stories, which means it may be difficult for some to use the entire space.

The final option is the AC. Although the AC may be accessible in its program inclusivity, offering a staggering number of facilities for a wide range of athletics, its actual infrastructure is incompatible for someone who is not completely mobile. The AC boasts of its “seven gymnasia, three pools… strength and conditioning centre, indoor track, dance studio, cardio machines, tennis and squash courts, and steam rooms,” but its counterintuitive layout and multiple barriers for entry restrict some who may want to use these spaces.

The change rooms and restrooms, for example, although accessible, are hard to get to, being located in  the basement and requiring visitors to go down a flight of stairs.

There are also tricky turnstiles that members need to walk through, and even once you’re in the main facility, getting around can be quite confusing for even the best of us. One Google reviewer aptly called it “a big maze,” referring to the design and size of the building, which makes navigation especially difficult, and can lead to a lot of wasted time walking in circles.

It seems like every gym is lacking in some way or another when it comes to accessibility, so while it’s important to choose the facility that best suits your needs, it’s clearly time for U of T to raise its  bar for accessibility standards at all of its gyms.

UTSG: Accessible Tour of Robarts Library

Accessible Tour of Robarts Library

Would you like to learn more about accessibility and user services at Robarts Library? Join Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA), the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) and the University of Toronto Library Services for a unique accessible tour of Robarts Library.

This tour will provide:

– An overview of services, supports, and technologies available for disabled students

– Information about booking accessible study rooms

– A short walking/rolling tour of Robarts Library

– A chance to meet the User Services and Accessibility Librarian at Robarts and ask questions

Date: Thursday October 3, 2019

Time: 11am – 12pm

Location: Robarts 4th floor Computer Lab

Accessible Power Entrance located off of St George Street (nearest to intersection of St George Street & Harbord Street)

This tour of Robarts is free and open to all students.

New and returning students are welcome.

TTC Tokens will be provided.

Please contact Nadia at sba.advocacycoordinator@gmail.com to RSVP and for more information.

The library tour will be accessible. A notetaker will be present. If you require ASL interpretation please contact us by September 20, 2019.

[Image Description: The banner image depicts Robarts Library on the left side of the image in teal and white. The top left hand corner of the image has the title “Accessible Tour of Robarts” in white block text. The right hand side of the image is white with black text. It reads “Thursday October 3, 11am, Robarts 4th floor Computer Lab. Would you like to learn more about accessibility and user services at Robarts Library? Join Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA), the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) and the University of Toronto Library Services for a unique accessible tour of Robarts Library.” The bottom right corner of the banner has the SBA logo and the APUS logo.”

UTSU to donate $100,000 to Hart House to improve accessibility

Incoming UTSU Board strikes finance, ad-hoc mental health committees

UTSU to donate $100,000 to Hart House to improve accessibility

Representatives from the outgoing University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors voted on April 28 to donate $100,000 from its Accessibility Resources Fund to Hart House. The donation aims to make it easier for people with disabilities to access the building.

The grant will contribute to the construction of a universal washroom at Hart House, which would be designed to minimize boundaries and restrictions for occupants with disabilities.  

The outgoing Board also voted to approve the UTSU’s 20192024 Strategic Plan, with changes, following criticism of the plan by directors in a previous Board meeting on April 4.

The intention of the plan is to provide a clear long-term direction and vision for the union, as well as improve continuity of key initiatives between each turnover of directors and executives.

UTSU President Joshua Bowman, who assumed the presidency following the end of the outgoing Board’s meeting, explained in an email to The Varsity the notable changes to the plan since the previous Board meeting.

The first was to recommend that the UTSU’s communications will “strive to comply with AODA [Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act] regulations.”

The second was to recommend that UTSU representatives view decision-makers as “partners”, rather than “representatives.”

“This is an important alteration,” wrote Bowman, “as the title of ally implicitly states that decision-makers would be working in our best interest, which is not always true especially given recent events.”

The third change was to highlight campus groups — including clubs, student societies, and levy groups — as a focus for the UTSU to foster relationships and to strengthen relations and engagement with students.

Incoming Board strikes ad-hoc mental health committee, finance committee

The incoming Board of Directors for 201920 held its first meeting, shortly after the last outgoing board meeting on the same day.

The new Board struck an ad-hoc mental health committee, which Bowman explained would meet and discuss “solutions that we see from our own individual lived experiences, and the communities that we come from.”

Long-term goals of the committee are to gather responses from U of T students through surveys; interact with various student societies, divisional faculties, and equity-seeking communities; and ultimately submit a report to U of T’s Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health.

Academic Director of Humanities Keenan Krause; Faculty of Dentistry Director Lucia Santos; University College Director Lina Maragha; Director of Applied Sciences and Engineering Jeremy Sharapov; and Victoria College Director Thomas Siddall were elected by the Board to serve on the mental health committee.

The Board also struck its Finance Committee, which will oversee the union’s budget and finances.

The directors on the committee are Academic Director of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Michael Morris; St. Michael’s College Director Neeharika Hemrajani; Director of Applied Science and Engineering Harrison Chan; Woodsworth College Director Andrea Chiappetta; and Professional Faculties at-large Directors Katharina Vrolijik and Hasma Habibiy.

“Accessibility is inaccessible”: Innis students host mental health forum

Students discuss lack of resources, U of T responsibility

“Accessibility is inaccessible”: Innis students host mental health forum

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

On March 29, a Mental Health Reform Open Forum was hosted at Innis College in light of a student death by suicide earlier this month and the ongoing discussion on mental health issues at U of T.

First-year students Oliver Daniel, Annie Liu, Kathy Sun, and Jehan Vakharia hosted what is hoped to be the first of many consultations with students, staff, and faculty.

The forum was intended as “a safe open space to encourage suggestions and gather ideas” to address and improve mental health supports at Innis College and U of T as a whole.

Daniel told The Varsity that following recent student initiatives on mental health — including the silent protest at Simcoe Hall and the How Many Lives? campaign — the organizers “wanted to focus more on the Innis collegiate level because that was something that wasn’t being addressed.”

The main initiatives brought to the table include the instatement of a mental health director or commissioner within Innis College for the upcoming academic year and a joint letter to Executive Director of the Health & Wellness Centre Janine Robb demanding institutional change to U of T’s mental health system. Of the seven Arts & Science college student unions and councils, University College, Woodsworth College, and Victoria University are the only three with mental health or wellness commissions.

While discussion also encompassed universitywide infrastructure, students repeatedly returned to the lack of available and accessible resources both on and off-campus.

While the university often directs students to a set of external resources, a number of students at the forum noted that Good2Talk, a helpline for postsecondary students, is often highlighted but also often overloaded. This culminated in a resounding call from students for on-campus crisis supports. Campus councillors, Vakharia noted, would also be more familiar with issues specific to U of T.

At the Health & Wellness Centre, students are said to have months-long wait times for appointments, with sessions for anxiety coping and cognitive behavioural therapy only accessible with a prescription from a Health & Wellness doctor.

The structure of Accessibility Services was also discussed, and its inconveniences were succinctly summarized by University College Mental Wellness Commissioner and guest speaker Kiana Habibagahi, who noted that “accessibility is inaccessible.”

Attention was also drawn to the sensitivity and intersectionality of supports by and for students, staff, and faculty. The topic was brought up following conversations about introducing student-run peer support networks at Innis College to provide students in precarious situations with immediate, on-the-ground assistance.

Accounting for these concerns, the organizers noted that a conscious effort would be made to form a representative volunteer base, paying mind to gender, cultural experiences, and international versus domestic student backgrounds.

The organizers also foresee volunteers receiving training similar to that of dons, which includes safeTALK for suicide prevention, as well as training on self-awareness to recognize when they are unable to provide adequate support by themselves.

Habibagahi cautioned that, because the student commission is “not trained,” it should act first and foremost as a “resource guide” and not as a “resource.”

In response to a student’s suggestion to mandate mental health training at Innis College, Dean of Students Steve Masse agreed that such training is important. Job training for occupational hazards and physical disabilities is already instituted at the college and across U of T, as it is legislated by the provincial government.

According to Masse, while there are employees with varying degrees of training — from safeTALK suicide prevention workshops to professional certifications — the university should strive to train as many people as possible.

Closing the discussion, Daniel presented the question, “Who is responsible for making sure that students are well?” Whereas one student referred to President Meric Gertler’s recent letter asserting that the administration is “strongly committed to collaborating,” others pointed out that responsibility lies with all members of the U of T community. Liu emphasized the need for “some resources at every level,” as individual concerns are best addressed by those involved in each specific area. Since the power ultimately lies with those at the top because they control the funding, Vakharia asserted that the administration needs to do more in order for students, staff, and faculty to follow suit.

Also in attendance was mental health advocate William Nesbitt, who expressed deep concern that there is a “perception around U of T that you guys are okay… and that’s not okay.”

Expressing his support for the organizers’ initiative, he suggested building a resource base and hosting seminars that allow students to participate voluntarily, anonymously, and as actively or passively as they desire. He also reminds students to maintain a partnership with the administration and not take an adversarial stance.

Let them know, he said, “that you won’t go away.”

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Menstruation frustrations

A cycle of quiet suffering on campus

Menstruation frustrations

Several days ago, I was having a conversation with my friends about the worst bathrooms we have seen so far at U of T, and while some of the characteristics that came up were expected — such as laughably-bad lighting, poor design, and lack of hygiene — a recurring theme also emerged: most of the bathrooms mentioned were not designed with menstruation in mind.

Whether it is dim lighting or cramped space, these spaces are already frustrating on a regular day, but when it comes time to deal with all of your period blood, the ridiculousness of the situation becomes even more evident. Since these unpleasant and tough situations only come about once a month, it seems much easier to just forget about those problems entirely.

This perspective is often shared by those who don’t see the value in investing in better bathrooms or creating better policies. In high school, my friends and I would have issues keeping up with school events and exams while dealing with our periods, but we were advised to “just deal with it,” since the ‘issue’ would go away in a few days and then we could forget about the problems until next month. But the real systemic issues never go away: somebody is always going to be menstruating, and members of the community will continue experiencing the same problems day by day unless the problems are addressed.

Although the taboo surrounding menstruation has lessened quite a bit over the last few decades and conversations surrounding it have become quite normalized, important changes have yet to be made with how the topic is handled. One would expect U of T to be better at this than other institutions, given its work on inclusion and its position as a global leader, and yet it still fails to have the most important conversations surrounding menstruation and provide appropriate avenues for support.

On a small scale, it’s generally much easier to have conversations about menstruation face to face, but even that approach has its own difficulties. How comfortable can it be to approach an old, male professor to talk about your bodily functions? In any case, these face-to-face conversations are nearly impossible at U of T, where classes are being taught to over 90,000 students every semester, making staff members even harder to communicate with and access.

But why are we even having these conversations? Why can’t we “just deal with it” and move on with our lives? Shouldn’t we be used to it by now? Can’t we just go to the doctor and get our problems permanently fixed? Why is menstruation such a big deal?

Well, periods can range from merely irritating to debilitating, and they don’t stay the same from month to month, much less throughout one’s lifetime. Along with a loss of blood, accompanying symptoms include headaches, exhaustion, cramps, nausea, light-headedness, and even fainting. There are several options to deal with these effects, such as birth control pills or painkillers, but the fact of the matter is that for many people, menstruation is difficult to endure, and no matter how many times they experience it, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll be prepared.

What are the systemic challenges that can be expected for someone getting their period at U of T? Let’s say that you go to the bathroom half an hour before the beginning of a midterm, and you’ve been feeling a bit off all day. You realize that you’ve gotten your period early and you’re completely unprepared: you don’t have anything to stop the flow and you’re freaking out in your stall. While U of T bathrooms have sanitary waste disposals for period products, some bathrooms don’t have operable pad and tampon dispensers, with some appearing to have been around since the dawn of time.

So, instead, you can ask a friend, or even a stranger, if they happen to be carrying a tampon or a pad. But this isn’t high school; your friends might be in a class on the opposite side of campus or there might not be anyone around. If you want to buy period products, you’ll likely have to go to the nearest drugstore, since they’re not nearly as easy to get on campus as free condoms and lube. As a last resort, you may be left relying on paper-thin toilet paper, an option that is used far too often, even in today’s day and age.

Now that you’ve successfully staunched the flow, you start feeling those dreaded cramps, and nausea on top of that too. What can you do? Perhaps you can buy some painkillers and ginger tea, but your midterm is now in 15 minutes and you know that it might take up to an hour for those cramps to go away, even with the painkillers. If you take the midterm, there’s a chance you’ll screw something up because of the pain, but there’s also no guarantee that you’ll be able to take a makeup test.

It’s generally more likely that you’ll be allowed to reschedule the test last-minute if the class is a small one, but for larger classes, you might run into trouble; some courses require valid documentation to be sent within 24 hours of a missed test. This documentation should either be the equivalent of a doctor’s note or a note from your college registrar, and missed labs require a doctor’s note. It’s easy to see why this system is flawed: doctor’s notes can be bought and faked; some doctors give notes too easily, while others never give them; and ultimately, pain is difficult to prove in any circumstance.

It’s challenging to figure out how the rules should be fixed, since a balance should be maintained between not encouraging people to lie about their pain, while also helping those who really are experiencing it. In terms of solving these bathroom problems, all bathrooms on campus should meet certain standards. All stalls should contain proper sanitary waste disposal, and functioning pad and tampon dispensers. For such a necessary part of daily life, menstruation products are quite hard to find, and U of T certainly isn’t making it any easier to get them where they’re most needed.

How should we start addressing these concerns? First, we should acknowledge the problems and ask students and staff what changes they want to see across campus. Then, the bathrooms on campus should be improved, starting with those in colleges and buildings with higher foot traffic. Course and testing policies concerning sudden illness should be updated, and U of T should explicitly outline what measures should be taken when conflicts arise between schooling and personal health issues, such as those brought about by menstruation.

It’s important to realize that most of the people dealing with these issues are female, and failing to address them would mean giving half the students at U of T, around 45,000, a systemic disadvantage. The issues aren’t going to go away by themselves, and it’s incredibly easy to forget about them unless it happens to you. Once you start noticing flaws in U of T’s system, though, it’s impossible to stop, and every time you count yourself lucky for not being stuck bleeding in that dark, cramped bathroom in the basement, you’re neglecting to realize that your inaction only means that someone else will experience it instead. 

“Ableist and discriminatory content” described at training sessions for test invigilators

Invigilators at Test and Exam Services speak out against training

“Ableist and discriminatory content” described at training sessions for test invigilators

Invigilators at Test and Exam Services (TES) are speaking out over what they see as discriminatory training sessions, which have been described as “clearly [pathologizing] students with disabilities.”

TES is “the department responsible for coordinating quiz, term test, and final examination accommodations for students with documented disabilities,” according to its website. It employs roughly 40 to 45 “highly-qualified graduate students” to act as invigilators.

The issue regarding training sessions was first brought to light by a Facebook post made by an invigilator who had attended a training session on September 5.

In her post, which has been shared over 100 times, graduate student Elizabeth Davis wrote that “the training contained strong ableist and discriminatory content which is inappropriate and wrong to disseminate in a training environment for Invigilators working with students with disabilities.”

In particular, she and other invigilators took issue with two presentation slides that they believed described students with disabilities as “difficult” and comparable to US President Donald Trump.

The slides were presented as part of their training to become invigilators.

In an interview with The Varsity, Senior Director of Student Experience David Newman clarified that those slides were part of general de-escalation training given by the Student Progress and Support Team and were not specific to students with disabilities.

Powerpoint slides from a training session. Courtesy of ELIZABETH DAVIS

“The training was really about dealing with difficult situations and it was not about any specific group and it was not developed specifically for this group,” said Newman.

Newman continued that this presentation is given to many groups on campus, though he did not specify which ones.

“It’s a general type of presentation that is given to any group that there’s a large population of at the university… It’s a wide range of groups that training is provided to.”

Davis questioned the university’s explanation, saying that “if they weren’t there to talk about students with disabilities, why were they training us?”

“They’re invited to come train people who work with students with disabilities and they weren’t talking about students with disabilities… There’s something that doesn’t add up to me about that defence,” Davis said.

U of T Professor Tanya Titchkosky, who specializes in Disability Studies, told The Varsity that she saw the issues brought up at this training session as part of a growing trend at U of T of a “disregard of disability as a human rights issue.”

“To train people to conceive of disability as a burden and as a problem and not to include any training on human rights, I don’t know how that’s going to help anybody, including the employees at [TES],” Titchkosky said. “All they do is confirm a stereotype.”

Beyond training that seemingly described disabled students as “difficult,” Davis also said in her post that invigilators were told to see their jobs as related to “customer service.”

“I am deeply upset by this frank espousal of commitment to structuring social justice issues like accessibility as ‘customer service issues,’” Davis wrote. “However, what is directly relevant to this incident, is that a human rights issue is being framed as a customer service issue at the highest levels of administration at the University of Toronto, and at TES specifically, and this appears to be systematically linked to ableism, racism and poor labor practices.”

Powerpoint slides from a training session. Courtesy of ELIZABETH DAVIS

The description of TES as providing a customer service was confirmed by two other invigilators who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

Davis also noted in her Facebook post that she was the only person who spoke out at the training session because “the environment for Invigilator staff at TES has become so toxic, and Invigilator staff are subject to such punitive reprimand for any disagreement with management staff, that no one wants to speak up about anything even when what is happening is clearly wrong.”

Two current invigilators and one former invigilator agreed with Davis’ description of the “toxic” atmosphere at TES. The former invigilator told The Varsity that staff would be admonished when they tried to speak out against problems that they saw, particularly when it was about standing up for students.

The invigilators who spoke to The Varsity said that issues with the university’s treatment of disability have been a longstanding problem that has become worse in recent years. They point to the example of training that increasingly recommends that invigilators call police when they encounter difficulties.

Davis confirmed this in her post. “One thing that was continually emphasized in this training was that Invigilator staff can and should call Campus Police, as well as 911, when appropriate.”

When asked about what the university plans to do about these complaints, Newman said, “Certainly we are always reviewing the training based on feedback and we will be doing so in this instance as well.”

Titchkosky, when asked what she thought the university could do, said that people need to “start thinking about the conception of disability they’re working with.”

“It seems to me most classrooms seem to think disability is something you might encounter elsewhere,” Titchkosky said. “But they don’t really expect that blind students are showing up or deaf students are showing up.”

Conceptualizing inaccessibility on campus

In the context of the recent OHRC policy on accessible education, it is necessary to examine how ableism still persists in universities

Conceptualizing inaccessibility on campus

With the new Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) policy that includes broader definitions of disability and ableism and stresses the importance of accessible education, it seems that Ontario is taking a step forward to further naturalize disabled people in university environments. However, many students are likely still unaware as to how the university environment might be exclusionary or what discrimination toward disabled people looks like.

Disability is a very broad category that holds within it much variation, from various physical disabilities to learning disabilities to chronic illnesses to certain mental illnesses. These disparate groups of people are united in some aspect by their societal treatment: ableism.

Ableism can be described as a guiding set of negative and derogatory beliefs about disability and disabled people that can manifest in stereotypes, exclusion, discrimination, and abuse. These beliefs are woven deeply into our culture: into our language, in which descriptors for disability are often substituted for ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’; and into our media and art, in which disabled bodies and minds are frequently used as symbols for degeneration, perversion, or evil.

Disability, in history, has often been used as an excuse for denying the rights of various groups. For example, it was once argued that women were mentally disabled in relation to men, which is why they could not carry the responsibility of voting in the United States. Certain characteristics of women, real or imagined, were used to point to some underlying ‘deficiency’ that rendered them incompetent.

This process, which surely seems atrocious to us now in retrospect, is still weaponized against disabled people. However, discrimination as a result of ableism is difficult to challenge because disability is so naturalized as an inherently bad quality. Unlike other systems of marginalization that are based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or class, it is seen as fitting that a disabled person be found inferior to an able-bodied person. In a ‘common sense’ way, it seems right that disabled persons be thought of as lacking or deficient.

This compulsive negative valuation usually does not rear its head outright, but obscures itself behind discourses of competency, skill, or ability. It is therefore seen as valid when a boss fires a disabled employee instead of putting in effort to accommodate them for the ‘common sense’ reason that the employee is less ‘capable’ compared to non-disabled employees.

The continual reaffirmation of disability as a way-of-being that is wrong, unnatural, or negatively-valued is coupled with a near-total exclusion of disability, both in the public material sphere and in the public consciousness. The city teems with markers of exclusion: stairs in the entranceway to a shop, a subway station with no elevator, a lack of braille on public notices. These material markers speak to an exclusion of disability from the public consciousness. Despite the presence of disability everywhere in our culture, disabled bodies are not thought of as immediately existent; they are not thought of as potential inhabitants of space.

The situation is mirrored and perpetuated on university campuses. The disabled student is not thought of as a rightful inhabitant of the university environment. There are some concessions made in attempts to accommodate the student — for instance, Accessibility Services at U of T — but just the concept of an accommodation mechanism points to the fact that our university, at base, is not constructed with disabled students in mind.

If a structure needs to be especially manipulated in order to be accessed by disabled people, then that structure is intrinsically designed non-inclusively. The underlying structure is inaccessible and might only become more accessible with various tweaks to the foundations. These tweaks, of course, are available only to those who, through various navigations of bureaucracy, prove themselves to be ‘disabled enough’ to deserve them.

The idea of accommodations also places the onus of the work on the disabled students rather than on the institution. The student needs to especially register with a service, undergo medical examinations and cross-examining, and provide letters of reference just to obtain some degree of comfort in their classes or be able to complete their work.

Last semester, I had a class on the third floor of a building, and for a period of several weeks, the elevator was out of service. The university had been cognizant enough to place a sign outside that kindly informed that the elevator was out of service — but that was the extent of their efforts. It was only until I personally ventured to Accessibility Services and informed them that it was difficult for me to attend my class that the elevator was fixed.

I ask, what is the meaning of accessibility when the work to render things accessible needs to be performed by those being excluded? Why not render the university environment accessible and accommodating as a baseline and not just as a special concession granted to a select few? Why not fit classrooms with more comfortable chairs, give extensions to all those who ask for them, and ensure that all buildings are fully accessible at all times?

If this were done, the disabled student might be assumed as a natural inhabitant of the university environment and not as an outsider who must constantly prove their case to be allowed to enter the front hallway. However, we can ascertain that this subsuming of the disabled student into the university environment is a process to which the university is actively opposed.

One only has to look at the school’s policies policing the inclusion of its disabled students — for example, the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), which passed this summer. With such a policy, the university re-establishes its ability to exclude and exile disabled students who seem to them to be wrongful inhabitants — in this case, those who are too mentally ill, in ways that the university deems unfitting.

This policy has yet to be used against a student — and one might be optimistic that it is challengeable. The first version of the policy was strongly and explicitly opposed by the OHRC, and it is likely not coincidental that its recent statement on accessible education coincides with the passing of a later version of the policy. Though the naturalization of the disabled student as a rightful inhabitant of the university environment is being contested by administration, an ally might yet be found in the OHRC.

This might prove useful in the future, since discrimination against mentally ill students by universities is commonplace. Earlier this year, and south of the border, a student who checked herself into a hospital for anxiety was later barred from returning to her dorm by the University of Maryland. In words that eerily echo the UMLAP, administration cited concerns over her ability to live on campus.

A few years back, a Princeton University student recovering from a suicide attempt was barred from attending his classes and escorted off campus by security guards. Again, this exclusion was justified by concerns over the student’s ability, reflecting the rhetoric that justifies discrimination against disabled people.

Besides the need for structural changes on campus, how able-bodied students might push for increased inclusion of disabled persons in a university environment remains an important question. It does not have to necessitate intense amounts of activism and protest. It is as simple as remaining aware of one’s environment and disrupting the normalcy of exclusion in subtle ways. When you enter a classroom, you may ask yourself about the ways in which this environment is inaccessible and in what ways the rules set out by the instructor lend toward exclusionary practices.

By drawing attention to these aspects, one can spread awareness of the normative practices of exclusion — through speaking about them to your peers and instructors, and opening up discussions about accessibility. In these ways, disability might become a real presence in the university environment.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College.

Hart House to include accessible entrance in Arbor Room renovation

Donations being solicited for funding of project

Hart House to include accessible entrance in Arbor Room renovation

Hart House is seeking donations to help fund a full renovation of the Arbor Room, located on the building’s south side, including an accessible entrance. The renovation is part of an effort to increase Hart House’s accessibility, which has already included adding a ramp on the east side facing Queen’s Park.

Hart House Warden John Monahan explained that when the Arbor Room’s last food provider’s contract expired, renovation plans were already in place due to the floor sloping “dramatically towards the centre of the room.” According to Monahan, around the time of that contract expiry, Hart House was undergoing an accessibility review, which recommended more accessible entrances to the building.

“The Arbor Room, being so important and integral to the house, being at the front of Hart House really, right there on Hart House circle, that had always been dependant upon stairs, and therefore was not accessible to everybody,” said Monahan. “So since we were going to be repairing the Arbor Room anyway, we took the opportunity to expand the work to look into the feasibility of creating an accessible entrance into the Arbor Room.”

Monahan said that renovations on classic, neo-Gothic buildings can be expensive. Hart House receives roughly half its operating budget from student ancillary fees and roughly half from business revenue, including room rentals, catering, weddings, and fundraising.

“There are donors, we believe, that share our commitment to making spaces like Hart House more accessible for everybody,” he said. “We would rather have that money to spend on accessibility than have to depend upon the revenue provided by student ancillary fees. We’d rather put that money towards supporting the programs and activities that students really associate with Hart House.”

Students and community members can donate online. The donation page references “maintaining the heritage character of the building” while making it more accessible. Hart House will be working closely with the university’s property management and capital projects departments, recruiting engineers, architects, environmental assessors, and heritage consultants to assist in designing the new entrance.

“100 years ago, people didn’t have the same appreciation or same approach to accessibility as they do now. So we certainly don’t want to sacrifice accessibility at the altar of historical authenticity,” said Monahan. “At the same time, we don’t want to in any way mar the entrance to Hart House with a design that is going to fight with the heritage character of the rest of the building or the other buildings at the university for that matter.”