Ryerson and accessibility don’t go hand-in-hand

For most people, the main problem with Ryerson’s many buildings is that they require stepping outside into winter’s cold. For someone in a wheelchair, the problems go much further.

I broke my ankle at school last year, landing me in a wheelchair for four weeks. It broke during a moment of inattention. I missed a step on the stairs, fell forwards and heard a snap. My incompetence with crutches was immediately obvious, forcing me into a wheelchair.

Before my accident I was oblivious to the hardships that people with mobility issues face on campus.

One of Kerr Hall's many inaccessible entrances (Ryersonian Image Archive)

One of Kerr Hall’s many inaccessible entrances. (Ryersonian Image Archive)

Entering Kerr Hall in a wheelchair is impossible. You can’t enter on the ground floor, at least not on the south side. You have to go in through the Podium and take the elevator to the second floor, then take the bridge to Kerr Hall.

The elevator is sometimes out of service, making the commute even longer: snaking through the Podium, into Jorgenson Hall, up the elevator and back through Podium again. It’s about a 10-minute trip. You better hope you’re not already running late.

Esther Ignagni, assistant professor at the Ryerson school of disability, says that when buildings are designed this way, it tells people with disabilities that they are not as important.

“What you are saying to people is that their time isn’t valuable,” she says.

Ignagni says that she often invites people with disabilities in as guest speakers and getting them into the room she is teaching in can be a challenge.

As someone who doesn’t usually ride in a wheelchair, it was fun for the first five minutes and then it lost its appeal exponentially. My inexperience may have added to my problems. No one has complained about the ramps before, but most who use them are more experienced in a wheelchair than I am.

My inexperience led to nervousness so I did not go up many ramps, Instead I would plan my day so that I was always going downhill.

Going down the ramps scared me, but I knew I didn’t have the arm strength to wheel up them.

Seriously, you need to be Popeye for that.

The only ramp I used was in the Rogers Communications Centre (RCC). It’s not nearly as steep, particularly when compared to the bridging ramps between buildings.

One of the many inaccessible Kerr Hall entrances. (Ryersonian Image Archives)

A stairwell in Kerr Hall. (Ryersonian Image Archives)

I held myself back with my wheels and my good foot. By the end of my first day I had blisters on my thumbs.

Ignagni says you have to know the buildings intimately to get around campus with a mobility disability. She’s right. You have to know all of the entrances, remember which have stairs, which are accessible, and where all of the elevators are, in case your chosen one is out of service.

In Kerr Hall South, it’s important to know the building’s first floor is in three sections. When trying to navigate from the west side to the east, you need to take an elevator to the second floor, cross the gap and take another elevator back down. It’s still possible to get to class, but chances are you will need more than 10 minutes.

That said, most of the buildings are much more accessible and there is some progress being made in Ryerson’s accessibility department. Ignagni says she thinks “accessibility is on the university’s radar.”

But many buildings still aren’t accessible enough. The RCC, for example, has only one elevator and if it breaks, getting to the second floor means entering the Podium and going through Kerr Hall and across the bridge. And getting to the third floor? Impossible.

This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb 25, 2015.

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