One Carleton student’s fight for campus accessibility earns national attention

| March 18, 2017

Did you attend a college surrounded by hills, or in the case of yours truly, loads of mini-hills on one giant hill (hi, Brandeis)? Recall the dread you felt when you learned your new dorm was on the sixth floor? These situations make coming and going from your room or walking to class a full-on cardio workout.  Imagine how terrible it is when you have a disability, and the buildings have no elevators, or the elevators aren’t working.

student with disability

Student with a disability

Nathan Bragg, a Carleton University freshman, is championing the fight for accessibility in order to make day-to-day living on campus bearable for its entire community. Bragg, a journalism student, has cerebral palsy, and during March of 2013, his residential building’s elevators remained broken and unusable for three weeks. In addition, he had issues with accessible shower accommodations and communication problems with housing services about his needs for next school year.

Currently, he has to go to great lengths in order to access facilities such as the food court on other floors. Bragg describes his painstaking process in the following way: “I let my friends know, my friends come with me to the steps, and I transfer out of my chair so I hop out of it, and I crawl down or I walk down while tightly holding the rail. If I walk down, usually my friends will spot me by walking down the opposite side in case I spasm or slip.”

Bragg kicked off a petition that circulated to improve access on campus, which acquired more than 500 signatures by the end of March. He maintained that the petition is in the best interest of students who may have more severe disabilities.

“One thing I know, having experienced a disability my entire life, is that everyone experiences it differently,” said Bragg. “I don’t feel like Housing really understands that. If you’re at this university your disability should not affect your academic potential.” As of publication time, Bragg has met with Carleton residential staff members, who are conducting an accessibility audit on campus.

Luckily, Bragg’s petition has been inspirational for other universities planning accessibility-centric residential areas, such as Queen’s University in Canada, which recognizes that more accommodations are needed than elevators, such as accessible washrooms. The buildings will have two elevators, some barrier free bedrooms, common lounges that are wheelchair and motorized vehicle accessible, larger hallways, and gender-neutral washrooms.

College is about independence and learning, which are both jeopardized if students cannot access proper spaces. As Zainah Santur, the coordinator of the Carleton Disability Awareness Center, said, “If you’re not comfortable [in your own residence}, how do you think you’ll perform academically?”

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Category: ADA

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