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Issues of accessibility prevent students from attending class on time

Submitted by on October 13, 2011 – 9:48 amNo Comment

Photo by Ashley Durk

Corin Metzger is no stranger when it comes to overcoming obstacles. As a student with a physical disability, Metzger relies on Mohawk College’s elevators to get to her classes. On Sept. 27, however, Metzger faced a physical barrier unlike any other.

“I was going to a test so I was really kind of stressed at that point of time because I knew that I was going to be late,” said Metzger. “[…] I was frustrated, actually beyond frustrated at that point because I needed to get to class and this was just another kind of inconvenience.”

The second-year general arts and science student was waiting for the elevator after leaving her World History class on the 3rd floor of the Fennell Campus’ E wing at around 4:25 p.m., when an unidentified man told her that the elevator was out of order. Although the college installed stair lifts in both A and E wing this past July as a substitute option, the E wing lift was not in service either. Metzger realized she was going to have to use an alternative method of getting down the stairs.

“I was just thinking at that point that [the man] was going to have to help me get down the stairs, I’m going to ask him and if he says he can’t or whatever, I’m just going to go whichever way possible,” said Metzger. “If it means throw my own chair down the stairs and crawl down then that’s fine. I’ll do that. All I was thinking about was that I needed to get to that class.”

Metzger’s World History professor David Wearing helped Metzger carry her belongings down the stairs while the other individual carried her wheelchair.

“I was embarrassed for my student because it was apparent that she was going to have to go down three flights of stairs on her bum,” said Wearing. “[…] I just wondered if [Mohawk College] is future ready if a student had gotten to the third floor in an elevator and an hour and a half later could not get back down.”

Dean of Students Rachel Matthews says the incident is a great concern of the college.

“The initial reaction was great concern for the safety of the student and also concern for her dignity as an individual,” said Matthews, who added that the alternative stair lift is currently out of service because it is not yet certified.

“Our request has been in since they were installed and we’re still awaiting their arrival. Apparently there’s not a tight agenda on this, but we’re putting pressure on the [Technical Safety Standards] Association to support that we can get this up and running.”

This is not the first time Metzger has had similar problems with the college’s elevators. In January 2011, Metzger missed various classes in over a two-week period due to broken elevators. Despite the fact that upgrades have been made to the elevators, the actual lifting mechanisms and controls of most of the Fennell Campus’ elevators are original to the building and approximately 45-years-old. Therefore if a part breaks, it is often not in inventory and sometimes has to be manufactured. This in essence can cause extensive wait times.

Mohawk’s Chief Facilities Officer Ron Baskin says that in the case of the E wing stair lift; the certification has not been completed because E wing did not originally have the capacity in the emergency panel to power the lift.  Unlike the A wing lift, which is powered-up and certified, the installation of another emergency panel in E wing delayed the process.

“Once they’re powered up, which it is now, the Technical Safety Standards Association has to come in and test it and certify it,” said Baskin. “We’re actually waiting for the TSSA now, they were called last week and they come whenever they feel like it.”

In response to the incident, Matthews is confident that the college can prevent a similar instance from happening again.

“Yes I do [think we can prevent this from happening again],” she said. “I think we have work to do, but when we get an elevator disruption plan finalized and approved, we have all the appropriate point people identified, we have a good communication system and then supported by the commitment of our AODA, our over-arching plan, I think we can do it.”

The college does plan on eventually updating the elevators with the A wing elevator as the top priority. Although the A wing elevator already has funding, no set dates have been made.

“At what point in their budget are they going to have enough money to update the elevators?” questioned Metzger. “In what year?”

Metzger says she is not the only one fed up with the situation. She has talked to other students with physical limitations that have also expressed their frustration.

“I want it to be better at Mohawk,” she said. “Not to say that other people don’t want the same things as I do, it’s just that maybe they’re not as vocal as I am about it or they just don’t know what to do. I’ve always had to deal with these types of things and my parents have always told me that I have to advocate for myself and make it better.”

For now, Metzger hopes that by spreading the word about the issue she can encourage change.

“Especially when [Mohawk] has a slogan like ‘Future Ready’,” added Metzger. “What is being done to be future ready for disabled students?”

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