Signs around the Ryerson Recreation and Athletics Centre (RAC) underground gymnasium promote “all levels, all abilities, all welcome.” However, Ryerson community members with physical disabilities seem to be left outside its doors due to a lack of accessibility.
“There’s an assumption that disabled people can’t exercise, and that they don’t want to. Both of those are false,” says Adam Asmar, lead co-ordinator at RyeAccess. RyeAccess is an advocacy centre for students with disabilities and one of six equity service centres inside the Ryerson Students’ Union. It advocates on behalf of students with disabilities through campaigns, outreach and education.
According to Asmar, the RAC’s facilities fall below the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
“The university shouldn’t say they have two fully accessible gyms, in my opinion. It’s unfair to students,” he said.
The RAC’s main lobby has an automated gate for wheelchair access by the front desk that can be unlocked with the swipe of a OneCard. However, to get there, there is a steep staircase that has to be descended first.
Anyone with a mobility device would have to use the entrance on the lower level of Kerr Hall East instead to reach the gym. There are also no signs indicating where the accessible entrance toward the RAC’s main entrance in the Quad is.
The accessible entrance to the gym has two manual doors and a turnstile that the RAC staff must unlock at the front desk.
“Half of accessibility is autonomy. Immediately when you have to rely on someone else to accommodate your accessibility need, the autonomy is gone. And [there’s] that stigma of you needing to be helpless,” Asmar said. “You go through this maze to get into the RAC and then when you get to the RAC… the facilities are not accommodating.”
Disabled members who need to use the shower and locker rooms have to take a “very sketchy, old lift” elevator which requires a key from the staff for operation, according to Asmar.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said: “Unfortunately you have to recognize that the RAC was built in 1987 when, really current accessibility standards in terms of building code and AODA did not exist… I’m not defending what has been done before even my time at Ryerson but that’s probably one of the main issues.”
According to the Ontario Building Code and the AODA, there is no retroactive effect, meaning that a building like the RAC, which was constructed in the mid-1980s, does not have to be fitted with new accessible features.
However, the province plans for all public buildings to be fully accessible by 2025, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Lachemi also said the RAC is working on adding signs to the main doors, as well as bringing in strength and conditioning equipment specifically designed for persons with physical accessibility needs.
Asmar said the problem of the accessibility of the RAC goes beyond the elevator and limited training equipment.
“It’s a very dark space for students who have low vision and are partially blind or fully blind. And it’s a tight space to navigate,” he said. “People will tell me, ‘oh, but wheelchairs can fit through that hallway in the RAC.’ Sure they can fit but it’s tight. Nobody would want to do that. If a wheelchair is coming through, nobody can get the other way. You need two-way traffic.”
Located on Church and Carlton streets, the Mattamy Athletic Centre which was completed in 2012, is another alternative to RAC that complies more with the AODA standards.“University is a time when you can reclaim a lot of your identity,” Asmar said. “And for disabled students who would like to get physically active, it’s difficult.”