Daphne Cockwell Complex artist rendering
Rendering of Church Street elevation at the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex. (Courtesy of Ryerson University)

Ryerson Housing and Residence Life will be able to better accommodate students’ accessibility needs thanks to new barrier-free rooms at the Daphne Cockwell Complex (DCC).

Each residence floor will have a two-room barrier-free unit, according to Valerie Bruce, the assistant director, housing operations and administration at Ryerson.

“It eliminates barriers for various range of needs — mostly around physical requirements — but instead of having to customize or add things in, it already has most of the basics,” she said.

The barrier-free units will include features like automatic door openers, wider door frames, roll-in showers and lower countertops to make the space more accessible for students with mobility or strength issues.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) brought in new accessibility requirements for the Ontario Building Code on Jan. 1, 2015, with the aim to make Ontario barrier-free for people with disabilities by 2025.

Under the act, only new buildings or renovations must be made accessible. DCC has exceeded the new Building Code requirement, Bruce said.

“There’s an expectation now with building codes for newer buildings to have so many units that are accessible — and accessible can be a range of things,” Bruce said. “Barrier-free is kind of going above and beyond that. The idea around barrier-free — or sometimes people say universally designed — is that it creates no barriers for folks based on whatever need they have.”

Construction is ongoing for the Daphne Cockwell residences. (Victoria McMurchy/Ryersonian)

Lorene Casiez, the Accessibility and Wellness Practice Lead at Human Space, worked as an accessibility consultant for the DCC design team. In an email to the Ryersonian, she said post-secondary institutions have done a good job at creating access to education.

“One way they’ve done this is by designing and redeveloping campus buildings for the range of abilities and types of disabilities that exist among staff, students, volunteers and visitors,” Casiez said.

She said the barrier-free rooms at DCC will have an impact on students with accessibility needs.

“For students using mobility devices, this new residence reduces some of the geographic barriers and associated stressors around attending classes and being able to participate in all the exciting extra-curricular activities that are part of the university experience,” Casiez said.

However, the new Building Code does not have a retroactive effect, meaning that buildings built before the new requirements do not need to be fitted with accessibility features.

In the past, students living in Pitman Hall and the International Living Learning Centre (ILLC) would have to disclose to Ryerson Housing and Residence Life about their specific accessibility needs.

“Since the buildings were built [before the new] Building Code, we almost customize per student need,” Bruce said. “In the idea of barrier-free, there’s no need to change and also students don’t need to disclose exactly [what they need] because it should fit multiple needs.”

Although there will be an increase in barrier-free rooms at DCC, Bruce said that students with accessibility needs will be able to stay in any of the residence buildings.

“It’s important that students have choice,” she said. “Although these barrier-free units are super exciting for the new building, I don’t know if we’re going to fill all of them, which is okay — the benefit is that a student who doesn’t have accessibility needs can still feel comfortable in that space and it also means that students who have accessibility needs don’t have to live in DCC.”

DCC will open this summer and the first cohort of students will move in September 2019.

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