Assessing accessibility

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

October 24, 2007 Ed Cartoon

As part of a third-year alternative media class project, Katy Swailes and Mark J. DeMontis, media and public interest students, started Western Chirps.

It is a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of implementing audio signals (or chirps) for visually impaired students at on-campus intersections.

As it stands, intersections on campus are flooded with students rushing to class, cyclists, buses, cars and taxis, which can make it difficult for the visually impaired to cross the road safely.

For the visually impaired, accessibility means independence and, in particular, it means being able to safely navigate an intersection using accessible pedestrian signals.

Western focuses on “the best student experience,” and this mantra should apply to all students regardless of his or her ability.

Our campus, however, is not entirely accessible for blind (or legally blind) students.

Western must make campus accessible to students with disabilities by removing barriers under the Ontario Disabilities Act, which came into effect in 2001. Western should lobby the city of London, who holds jurisdiction over such matters, to implement audio signals.

Under the law, Western must submit annual reports documenting barriers that have been removed and identify barriers to be removed in the coming year. In the 2007-08 report there is no mention of audio signals.

Installing audio signals for the visually impaired is arguably a no-brainer; it is a relatively low-cost, minimally disruptive accommodation to improve student safety. London could implement audio signals at major on-campus intersections in the summer, when it is less busy with pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

This begs the question: why aren’t audio signals on campus?

It could be able-bodied students feel a certain level of discomfort around students with disabilities, which means students do not consider such accommodations.

It is possible Western was simply unaware of this issue. Usually the onus, whether right or wrong, is on the affected party to draw attention to the issue. In Western’s defence, the university cannot conceivably think of every necessary accommodation.

Perhaps it is necessary for students like DeMontis, who is legally blind, to raise awareness and encourage action.

On the other hand, this is a simple modification that already exists in London at the intersection of Richmond and Dundas streets, for example.

If Western lobbied for improved accessibility for the visually impaired on campus, it would be seen as a progressive move and perhaps encourage students with disabilities to consider Western; surely the accessibility of a campus factors into high school students’ university choice.

Most importantly, Western would show it is concerned for the safety of visually impaired students, who are equal members of our diverse university community.

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