Disabled students “scared to ask for help”

For Mount Allison students living with disabilities, barriers to the educational community are sometimes embodied in the  physical campus. From a lack of accessible infrastructure to the rain, wind and snow inherent in Sackville’s climate, students facing mobility challenges often struggle to get access to the services they need.

Rachael Hanakowski, a sociology student with cerebral palsy, has had to take time off from her education due to conditions on campus.

“I literally went away last winter semester, on purpose, specifically because it was hard to get around. That just goes to show how much of a direct impact these things have on students with mobility issues,” Hanakowski said.

“Parts of the geography that are difficult need to be smoothed out, like what was done by Avard Dixon a few years ago,” she said. “I would love to see more disabled students here at Mt. A, but I think many won’t come because it’s not very accessible.”

Despite these challenges, Hanakowski pointed out how positive her experience with university staff has been. “I think that everyone in the administration is trying their best to get things done, but I think they get tied up in red-tape a lot.

“The university has been great to me personally. But I think more needs to be done overall to make campus more accessible.”

Students find campus inaccessible. Ryan MacRae/Argosy
Students find campus inaccessible. Ryan MacRae/Argosy

Both Hanakowski and Olivia Auriat, the Accessibility Affairs Coordinator for the students’ union and the president of the Association of Chronically Ill and Disabled Students (ACID), cited the need for more accessible infrastructure. They noted a lack of elevators, handrails and ramps on campus. Both, however, praised the services provided by the Meighen Centre.

“The Meighen Centre is top of the line. The testing accommodations we have [at Mt. A] are almost unparalleled at any other Canadian university, which extends to physical accessibility,” Auriat said. She raised concerns, however, that students are not aware of these services.

Auriat said that resident assistants (RAs) and orientation staff need to be knowledgeable about these resources and able to provide the information to students.

“RAs aren’t really taught how to work with disabled students, especially with learning disabilities, which are really common,” Auriat said. “If RAs don’t know what the Meighen Centre is, or what services the Wellness Centre provides, how can they help students in need of these services?”

“We could be doing a lot better,” she said.

Auriat and Hanakowski both had mixed feelings about new construction behind the breezeway connecting the Ralph Pickard Bell Library with the Crabtree building, where a new pathway was paved in place of a staircase.

“Maybe this is progress,” Auriat said. “There’s only so much construction that can happen when students are gone. Hopefully next year the staircase comes down and they put in a ramp.”

Hanakowski added that it is good the university has reduced the number of stairs on campus, but that she wishes that the breezeway had been made totally accessible.

“The point is to live, regardless of your ability, to be able to live life to the fullest. It’s about fairness. It’s a terrible issue but it’s not insular. Things that the university here lacks other schools have, and vice-versa,” she said.

“People that I’ve known who have had an injury, or whatever, are just scared, they’re scared to ask for help. We have such a great community here, just be honest about your situation and you’ll be surprised and delighted at the response you’ll get.”

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