Overlooked barriers to accessibility on campus

Campus accessibility issues often unrecognized by those unaffected

At first glance, the environment of Mount Allison shares a beauty appreciated by all – unfortunately, many are not able to travel as safely as they would like. There are students with various needs based on various disabilities and movement disorders, from chronic pain to tremors to paralysis. The campus has quite a number of legitimate issues that need to be fixed for the benefit of those who are physically disabled, mobility-challenged or simply functionally different.

Let me endeavour to clarify that latter point first: something many students may not have realized is that, in a surprising number of classrooms, there is not proper seating for left-handed individuals. It sounds counter-intuitive, arbitrary and honestly archaic, but in classes like Crabtree M10, of all the chairs provided, there is only one seat for a left-handed person. M10 is an example of another issue I’ve personally encountered: the position of the previously-mentioned seat changed constantly. It was like an inconvenient game of Where’s Waldo: Chair Edition, where I would often be forced to sit in the fourth row or even further back when I prefer and often require the front row. The front row is where I am able to best pay attention to the professor and ensure that I am getting my time’s worth by attending class. This may sound minute, but the difficulty makes writing a serious chore and the discomfort of sitting in a desk that doesn’t accommodate you makes it genuinely hard to pay attention, making it more likely you won’t take notes as effectively and even concentrate on what’s being said. This much trouble is simply related to being left-handed.

Not only are desks a quiet nightmare; chairs can cause real strife as well. This isn’t isolated to one class in Crabtree. In Jennings, the chairs are so close together that getting out (or in) creates this temporal hellscape when people have to weave between each other. Everyone is uncomfortable and every movement seems to be wrong. For those unlucky souls who are forced to sit in cold corners, they are trapped unless they have the mobility necessary to climb over the chair or chairs involved and escape to freedom. It is physically uncomfortable and it also has a high likelihood to lead to painful accidents (someone slammed the back of their chair into my thigh simply because they did not see me, and it hurt). It also creates a sense of anxiety and claustrophobia in many students, making the entire experience feel like a stressor or a chore.

The outside isn’t much better off. Railings – as well as extra seating throughout campus – would create a safer environment outside. Heading toward Edwards-Thornton can sometimes be an Indiana Jones-like adventure if there is even a sliver of ice, since the walkway dips at a surprising angle. I have seen some dramatic feats of human ability in the oft vain attempt to not get covered in slush and salt. This is also true of the dip toward Jennings, another area without respite if one falls on their ass. And that is simply describing the issue of heading downhill. Going uphill is a true uphill battle.

You may be wondering why I devoted this op-ed to what might be considered less important matters in the entire issue of mobility accessibility. For me, it’s important to discuss issues like this just as much as the more obvious ones, in order for people to become aware of both types of issues. If we can’t address these struggles, which have relatively simple solutions, then how can we address struggles that are seen as more important and in higher need of solving, such as wheelchair accessibility in all buildings?

Narissa Gallant