The harsh reality of being differently abled on campus
When I first came onto campus for my very first class, I was using my manual chair, which I was wheeling by myself all over campus. I really noticed how far the buildings were spread out. When I went to the ramp in front of the Angus L. MacDonald Library, there was a really big lip on the front of the ramp and it wasn’t flat to the ground; it was basically like a sidewalk with a curb. There was also a dumpster at the bottom of the ramp which prevented accessibility. This was back in 2011.
As I was wheeling in the parking lot, I remember that there were a bunch of pot holes, which made it twice as hard to wheel around in the manual chair. I eventually got to Bloomfield, and randomly found an elevator. I didn’t know where I was going. I found the Tramble Rooms and it happened that someone in there was actually in my Spanish class, where I was heading.
Frank Webb jumped right up in the Tramble Rooms and said ‘Hey, you know what, you’re in my class. Do you want me take you over?’ He actually wheeled me to class, and that felt so nice, because my arms were really tired. But when we got to the classroom, I found it wasn’t really that accessible.
The class was in an old and small auditorium with steps to get to the desks. Even my professor was wondering, ‘where is this student going to sit’. That was awkward.
The classroom was on the first floor in Nicholson. Frank and another man from the classroom lifted me up on the stairs so that I could have a desk, and they did that every class for the first part of the year.
I ended up having to drop the course anyways, because there was a language lab section in Immaculetta Hall that I couldn’t access. I had to pay for that Spanish course, even though I couldn’t access the lab. I bought the book, the disc and everything that was required for the course. I was doing fine with the course when it came to the actual class work. However, the language lab was worth 50% of the grade, and I simply wasn’t able to access the Spanish lab.
There are many other accounts of accessibility issues on Campus. In 2011 when the winter came, I had my power-chair, which weighed approximately 600lbs and was sturdy, but one of my front tires ended up in a big pothole, and it flipped.
I flipped my chair and broke my controller twice by going across campus that winter, due to the depth of the potholes and the way the chair fell. Repairing the controller costs around $1000. Alongside the cost, to get it fixed you have to send your chair away and then you have to go without the power-chair while it is being repaired. I don’t wear the seat belt when I drive my chair, so luckily it did not land on top of me and injure me. I don’t wear a seat belt anymore, since when I flipped the chair before with my seatbelt on it broke my arm.
There was another time when I was living on campus and I couldn’t get out of my “accessible” dorm in Power Hall that morning, because of the snow. The snow was really packed, and I couldn’t get out of the door. I had to David Coyle from the Tramble Rooms. I had an 8:15am class, and David picked me up and dropped me off. I was in class for most of the day, but when I went back home, 5 hours after I left the dorm that morning, it still wasn’t plowed, nor was it shovelled.
I could understand that if there was a snowstorm that hit the town, then it would not be cleared right away. But 12 hours after the snow came it wasn’t even shovelled, and it just did not seem right. When I went back to my dorm that night after my classes, I thought to myself ‘I can’t drive through the snow, I would just get stuck.’ I had to crawl through the cold snow!
There were a number of other times when I got stuck in the snow on campus. At the time I was lucky because my buddy Jamie was in the next residence over from where I lived, Somers. Jamie even went as far as giving me his number so that I could call him in case I was stuck. There were times when I was stuck in the snow, and he was able to pull me out.
I have had classes over at the Nicholson Hall, and gotten stuck inside the lift, which provides access to the classroom, up to 30 minutes. There were times when the lift didn’t even work. When I contacted Facilities Management about issues like this, it seemed as though a lot of the times they wouldn’t come at all. When I called they would say that it was noted.
I remember just last year I had two classes in on the third floor of Nicholson. I needed to use the Nicholson Hall elevator almost every day for those two classes. Four days out of five, I would try to use that elevator and it wouldn’t be working. I would call Facilities Management and sometimes they would say, “We will send somebody over.” I would be at the elevator for over an hour waiting for somebody to come. By the time they came my class would be over. I really don’t like to miss class. I don’t feel like I should have to be missing class. Because of this constant issue, I was really fed up. Eventually, I said “F**k it! I am going to climb up the stairs.”
This was during the winter last year. The stairs were all full of salt and it was really dirty. By the time that I crawled up the flight of stairs to get to the third floor and crawled down the hallway to get to my class, I looked like I crawled through drywall. My black hair had turned white; my dark clothes were white. It was gross because I couldn’t stop coughing either. I later found out from one of the custodians that they don’t even touch the stairs without using a mask, because there is so much dirt that comes up from them.
When I finally showed up, I was trying not to disturb the class. But by literally crawling into class I did. This was for my New Religions and Cults class. My professor, Jonathan Bernier, was mortified that I had to climb the stairs. His reaction was ‘Oh my god Mary Mae, you did what? You climbed the set of stairs to get to class?” My classmates were pissed off that I had to crawl up the stairs.
I remember a student ran down the stairs and grabbed my schoolbag off of my wheelchair; because I had left everything at the bottom of the stairs. He got my schoolbag and my water bottle because I was coughing really bad. Because there was a professor behind that issue when it was reported, the classroom was changed right away to a room on a lower floor, where I wouldn’t have to use the elevator.
When you both faculty and students recognize an issue, it becomes more than an individual issue, it goes a step forward and becomes a university issue. This is why the faculty and student body need to draw attention to this. Accessibility should not be about PR here on campus; it needs to be about human rights.
People with physical disabilities should not have to struggle on campus at one of the most expensive undergraduate universities in Canada. We need everyone to care, and we need Kent MacDonald to draw attention to issues like this and to make this institution a place of inclusion.