UMSU rep: U of M falling short in providing access for students with disabilities

The University of Manitoba is falling short when it comes to making the university accessible to students living with disabilities, says the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) Community Representative for Students living with Disabilities, Gabriel Pelletier.

“For our university to be the first one in Canada to have [ . . . ] disability services, we are falling way short,” said Pelletier.

“All that any student with a disability is asking for is to be able to fully participate in the university in an unbiased manner [to] the best of our ability, and I think I am, and a lot of students are still waiting.”

He explained that students have come to him with a variety of different issues, including the fact that those with a visual impairment often have a difficult time navigating the campus.

“They have no maps available to them or no full campus maps available to them in brail, so people with vision impairments can’t get around the campus,” said Pelletier.

He was also concerned that the university does not have an efficient evacuation strategy for fire alarms.

“If you’re in a wheelchair and you’re stuck up on the fifth floor, that is where you’re staying until the fire department turns all the elevators back on so you can get out,” said Pelletier.

However, Disability Services coordinator Carolyn Christie explained the university evacuation plan and emergency procedures plan in detail.

She explained that what students are supposed to do is get themselves to the room closest to the elevators or the stairwell. The fire marshal then goes through each room on each floor. If someone is found, once the fire department arrives, that person is evacuated. The fire department would then resume their check of the building.

In addition, Pelletier suggested that there be a community space made available for students living with a disability, touching on how most other student communities have a designated space.

“Until students with disabilities receive the same kind of equity of having that safe space or even a dedicated study area with the adapted technology that is needed, its kind of a fall-short.”
One of the most significant concerns students with a learning disability often have is how their instructors will perceive them, explained Christie.

“A lot of times students will not necessarily say what the nature of their disability is, but say what things they might need in a classroom or on campus,” said Christie.

Christie went on to explain that while it’s important that students always feel comfortable on campus, disclosing a learning or mental health disability is a personal choice.

“For instance, someone might be new to their disability and they’re not sure themselves how they feel about it, so to try and talk about it with someone else might be really difficult,” she continued.

Pelletier also added the large size of the U of M’s campus can create an issue for those with limited mobility, especially in the winter months.

“The snow, ice and build up of leaves can kind of make it treacherous,” said Pelletier.
“It’s difficult for people that might not even be in a wheelchair but might be on crutches, or they might not be required to use a wheelchair but have difficulties. It’s a safety concern,” he continued.

However, Christie said that the university’s Physical Plant has generally been very good at maintaining the campus and preventing it from becoming dangerous to those with a mobility issue.

“We get more comments in the winter months, when there’s snow on the ground [ . . . ] but the physical plant has been pretty awesome for us in terms of getting things going,” said Chrisite.

“They’ll have their staff come in early to get it all cleaned up so that especially the accessible spots are cleaned up first, so people can park there and get to classes, and then they clean the rest of the lot afterwards.”

John Danakas, director of public affairs explained that there are a number of services provided to students living with disabilities, saying, “Disabilities Services provides advising in terms of how a disability would affect the student, and academic advisors in each faculty provide the academic advisor on occasion we are called in to help the advisor and the student make an academic plan.”

He continued, “Disability services has met with the UMSU rep, and they have had a number of discussions. We are doing what we can to provide the services that are required.”