Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

UQAT Prefers To Pay for Soccer Field Than Disabled Student’s Safety

The parking lot at the Rouyn campus of the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue is not wheelchair friendly. This issue is only one of many physical accessibility barriers at the university. I understand that there are students who have been battling the university for at least 3 years, asking them to resolve the issues. So far, they have gotten nowhere.

Voir la version francophone

Some of the issues include:

  • The only disability parking is on side of a one-way street (causing high risk with loading/unloading the wheelchair, and oncoming draffic);
  • Having to park across the street (crossing street in winter, the "school season" in Québec. is dangerous at best);
  • Lack of sidewalks (accessible parking must be on “accessible route”, i.e. not force travel on stret);
  • Potholes in front of curbs (filled with deep water every time it rains, or snow & ice in Winter);
  • No thorough snow removal in lot in Winter (a layer of snow often left, especially in potholes, creating “traps” for wheelchair users);
  • No timely nor thorough snow removal on ramps in Winter (a layer of packed snow is left on the ramp, which turns to ice, making ramps impassable and dangerous).

These issues have been brought up to various university authorities. These authorities promised to rectify the problem, and eventually offered a “compromise”, but basically 3 years on the problems still exist. The compromise was for the student to use a Loading Zone as parking space – except that the space is often already in use by other people. And in Winter, because of poor road condition and poor snow maintenance, the space is not usable anyway.

Yesterday, I heard that the university decided to make repairs to their soccer field. It looks like they suspended/delayed working on the parking lot because of the cost of the repairs to the soccer field.

The same university built a new student residence, at the cost of CAD$7.5 million. This new residence doesn’t have any accessible rooms. I believe that the Québec Building Code requires accessibility to new facilities, although it is possible that a large housing facility for student, built by a tertiary education institution, funded in large part by the government, might be excluded. I somehow doubt it.

From what I understand, it is against the Canadian Human Rights Act to discriminate against someone on the basis of their disability. It also seems to be against Québec’s Charte des Droits et Liberts de la Personne (PDF). The intent of the Charte is (in French):

Tout être humain possède des droits et libertés destinés à assurer sa protection et son épanouissement. Et tous sont égaux en valeur et en dignité… C’est ce qu’affirme la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne . Et ce sont de tels droits que vise à protéger la Loi sur la protection de la jeunesse.

Mais ces idéaux peuvent avoir pour revers la discrimination, le harcèlement, l’exploitation, l’exclusion ou, pour des enfants en difficulté, des lacunes dans les services auxquels ils ont droit.

Commission des Droits de la Personne et des Droits de la Jeunesse

Here’s the highlight in English: "All human beings have rights and liberties to ensure their protection and growth.[…] But these ideals may encur discrimination, harassment, exclusion, or […] lacks in services for which they have a right".

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one. Yet it seems to me that building a brand new facility to house students without making accessibility provision breaches both the Canadian and Québec human rights legislation, if it doesn’t breach the building code.

It also speaks volumes that the university opts to spend money fixing a soccer field instead of fixing a dangerous situation for their students who are wheelchair users.

I may be accused of seeing discrimination where it doesn’t exist. And I’ll readily accept that each individual concerned doesn’t want to discriminate against people with disabilities. I believe these actions show an institutional bias against students with disabilities – the university as a whole is guilty of practices that make life difficult and dangerous for their students who are wheelchair users.

I am reminded of an employment practice that is illegal in most places: Constructive Dismissal. There is a pattern of actions (or lack thereof) that have made the life of students with disabilities so difficult that were they in an employer/employee relationship, they would consider themselves fired.

One of these students said:

Makes we want to quit my studies because the whole place makes me feel like they REALLY just want to be rid of students like me

This was partly in response from a university representative who told this person "we’re not forgetting you". An answer that sounds somewhat patronising considering that it’s been 3 years of asking and getting nowhere. For me, it’s so very similar to businesses that tell me that they are accessible, if only I were to go through the loading docks in the back alley. The university is, in fact, pushing students away.

It is very difficult to find employment as a person with a disability. One of the only ways to do this is to ensure high levels of education. The university is making life difficult so students with disabilities don’t actually want to study there. In effect, the university’s action are worsening the future of people with disabilities by denying them equal access to studies – hence to future employment.

Shame on UQAT for not being more proactive in resolving issues for students with disabilities.

One thought on “UQAT Prefers To Pay for Soccer Field Than Disabled Student’s Safety

  1. I fleetingly thought, when I first saw your Tweet on this post, that you must surely be talking about my University, which valued its new soccer field over raising adjunct faculty salaries to above minimum wage.

    Seriously. I did the math once. I kept track for a semester of every hour I put into student advisement, planning, teaching, and grading, divided it by my pay for the term, and discovered that I could make more per hour working closing at Checkers. (For you folks Down Under, that’s a hamburger chain in the U.S.)

    But, hey. The topic here is access, not pay. So lets talk about that. The number of handicap parking spaces available at this school are so limited that I have spent, on many occasions, as long as 40 minutes circling the parking deck waiting for a spot to come open.

    At least twice that I can recall during the last semester that I taught there, one never did. On one occasion, I found a handicap space about 1/4 mile uphill from my classroom. The downhill walk (I am still ambulatory)to class was doable, if only barely, the return trip not so much.

    On the second occasion, I never did find a handicap space. The nearest faculty space for which I had a permit was an approximately 1/2-mile uphill walk to my classroom, but that’s what I did, as I couldn’t quite see calling in to cancel a lecture to 50 kids just because I can’t find a parking space.

    I wonder how many kids miss classes altogether because they don’t have the option of parking somewhere else and walking.

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