Ryerson’s theatre school is not accessible to those with disabilities despite growing student concern. Photo: Natalia Balcerzak

Theatre school fails on accommodation

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By Diana Hall

Cancer isn’t about to stop Lindsay Fell’s wheelchair-bound mom from seeing her daughter dance one last time. It’s the journey up two flights of steep, narrow stairs with no help from an elevator that worry her.

Fell, a second-year dance student at Ryerson University, is performing in an upcoming dance show in a third-floor studio at the Ryerson Theatre School (RTS).

The non-wheelchair-accessible building is a problem for Fell, who has had to ask a group of friends to carry her mom – who is battling a crippling set of lung, bone, brain and liver cancers – up the old RTS staircase so her mom can sit in the audience.

Fell’s frustration highlights RTS’s archaic building design when it comes to disability accommodation.

The theatre school, built in the 1880s, has no elevator, no automatic door openers and no ramps for wheelchairs. For Fell’s mom, it’s a recipe for danger.

“She’s excited to see me dance, but she’s really nervous about getting up and down the stairs,” Fell said. “At one point she wasn’t even going to come… So many things can go wrong, right – like, if they drop her while they’re carrying her up the stairs… That would be like one of the worst things that could happen.”

But Kerri Bailey, manager of campus facilities and sustainability, said in an email the theatre school isn’t likely to have an elevator installed any time soon.

“The renovations to include an elevator in the theatre building would be cost prohibitive,” Bailey said.

She didn’t say how much an elevator would cost Ryerson, but noted that the theatre school is one of many older buildings on campus that was constructed “before accessibility was a concern,” and isn’t subject to Ontario’s accommodations law.

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which became law in 2005, public and private businesses were forced to comply with provincial accessibility standards for business communications, employee training and disability accommodation by Jan. 1, 2012.

Although the act also triggered a revamp of the Ontario Building Code, which has been amended to regulate enhancements to accessibility in construction starting Jan. 1, 2015, the new legislation won’t affect existing buildings.

For new building projects in Ontario, the guidelines require installation of an elevator or other “barrier-free access” between storeys in most buildings, power door operators for places like washrooms and common rooms, as well as requirements for accessible seating in buildings like theatres and lecture halls.

But the guidelines won’t be binding on RTS, or any other old building on campus. As Ryerson president Sheldon Levy told the Eyeopener in 2010, full accessibility on campus is “just impossible.”

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