By Mariana Ionova
For Ryerson students using a wheelchair, getting to a class in Kerr Hall could be dangerous and nearly impossible. The ramps leading to the entrances are too steep, the doorways are too narrow and the pavement is cracked and heaved.
Kerr Hall is among a number of older buildings on campus that were not built with accessibility in mind and have become a hassle for students with disabilities. But the university has prioritized improving accessibility in existing buildings as much as possible, according to Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.
“An inclusive, accessible campus is a huge priority for us,” Levy said.
But although the university has made efforts over the last decade to turn the campus into a more accessible space with automated doors, ramps and elevators, some areas simply cannot be converted, according Levy.
“When it comes to some of our buildings, the only way to make it accessible is to knock them down and rebuild them,” Levy said. “It’s just impossible. So, where we can make differences, we make differences. But look at parts of Kerr Hall—you would never build Kerr Hall the way it was built.”
Ryerson assessed the cost of rebuilding Kerr Hall into a more accessible space but the project is just not financially feasible.
“To knock down and rebuild Kerr Hall is a billion dollars,” Levy said.
But the university is building new structures with accessibility in mind, according to Levy.
“We make sure that, with all new facilities, they are accessible,” he said.
Starting next year, these efforts will become regulated by the province. Ontario is currently working on turning accessibility recommendations gathered from committees into law as a part of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). These new built environment requirements will force all private and public institutions to incorporate accessibility efforts into any new building developments and major renovations of existing buildings.
According to Suzanne Share, accessibility expert and president of Access SCS Consulting Services, the new regulations will put additional pressure on institutions to focus on accessibility.
“The AODA really forces everybody to wake up,” said Share, who was part of the Accessible Built Environment Standards Development Committee, which devised the proposal for the new accessibility standards in 2009.
But the regulations will not apply to older buildings, which would mean that the university will not be required to turn decades-old structures like the Theatre School and Kerr Hall into fully accessible spaces.
According to Share, this limits the utility of the regulations.
“By not looking at and targeting the older buildings, you are not going to have an accessible campus— that is the bottom line,” she said.
Ellissa Uhlmann, co-ordinator of RyeAccess, agreed that older buildings pose the biggest challenge to students with disabilities because there are always issues with broken elevators, blocked hallways and automatic buttons that do not work.
But she also noted that, in some cases, nothing will make these spaces fully accessible.
“The university has to take small steps like fixing an elevator or fixing a ramp.”
“But those [older] buildings will never, ever meet the complete accessibility standards unless you get a new building, which is not really a possibility,” Uhlmann said.
But Uhlmann said that the university’s initiatives in the area show a commitment to becoming accessible, but the process is ongoing and takes time.
“The university is really trying to make it a priority.”
Photo: Marta Iwanek