Editorial, Opinion

Construction is inevitable, accessibility barriers are not

The McGill experience would not be complete without campus construction. However, while some campus improvements are necessary, construction should not bar students or faculty with disabilities from participating in classes and campus life. Able-bodied people may see construction as damaging to the campus’ aesthetics, but for disabled McGill students, construction on campus can seriously threaten their academic experiences. McGill has a responsibility to improve accommodations during construction and prioritize accessibility in future construction plans.

As long as construction impedes accessibility on campus, McGill needs to provide sufficient resources for the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). The OSD aims to support the inclusion of diverse learners and is responsible for tasks like finding note-takers, getting students testing accommodations and offering technological resources like computer labs. When building closures limit students’ mobility access and access to resources, the OSD is responsible for finding accommodations. This fall, the OSD stopped paying note-takers, meaning some students with disabilities might be left with lecture notes they desperately need. Responsibility falls on the McGill administration to make up for the lack of funding at the OSD and ensure students have the resources they need.

In addition to notes, lectures should be recorded and offered with closed captioning. Having lecture notes and recordings easily available will allow students who might have to miss class due to construction, health, or other reasons, to be able to stay on track. The decision to record lectures is currently left to professors’ discretion, but for students with auditory or visual impairments, these recordings should not be considered an asset but a necessity. Having the option to listen to or watch closed-captioned recordings could significantly improve students’ ability to succeed in a class, especially when construction makes noise disruptions commonplace. 

Construction in big cities is inevitable. Many of McGill’s buildings, including Leacock and the William Shatner University Centre, were built at a time when asbestos was a common construction material, resulting in mandatory asbestos abatement now that its danger has become apparent. A Quebec government study found that 73 per cent of McGill’s buildings on its two campuses are in poor or very poor shape. Construction at McGill is also uniquely challenging because McGill lacks adequate government funding: If the Quebec government allocated funds proportionally based on university populations, McGill would receive an additional $26 million per year. Underfunding means that construction projects get put off or take longer than they otherwise might. This fact, combined with the reality that many buildings on campus require refurbishing, makes construction at McGill an ongoing and seemingly never-ending process.

If the administration hopes to effectively support the student body, McGill’s construction and development planners need to be able to coordinate and plan ahead with the OSD. Being kept up to date about new accessibility barriers would allow the OSD to plan accommodations in advance and help them ensure disabled students have the necessary resources. For example, if a class gets moved to a less accessible area due to construction, the OSD can plan in advance to get note-takers for that course in order to accommodate students with mobility impairments.

Many students on campus also live with invisible disabilities including mental illness, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders that can make attending class significantly more challenging. For example, attending class in a building under construction may be difficult for a student who needs unimpeded access to exits or bathrooms. Lecture recordings and notes would allow students to focus on handling their illnesses or conditions without having to navigate campus on their bad days.

While some accommodations can be made right now, accommodation planning must accompany every step of construction at McGill. Loud construction, which can be triggering for people with mental illnesses and challenging for people with hearing impairments, should be planned outside of class time. Planning also means accommodating professors with disabilities so that they are well equipped to teach their courses; a professor in a wheelchair should not be assigned to a room with an inaccessible podium, for example. 

Currently, McGill has an accessibility working group, however, the group does not explicitly reserve a space for students with disabilities. McGill should invite students with disabilities to give their input and participate in planning accommodations. Student’s who experience accessibility obstacles on campus firsthand are in the best position to suggest how those obstacles might be overcome, therefore, it is imperative that the administration consider their input.

Construction is a part of campus life but it should not stop students with disabilities from participating in the McGill community. McGill must take immediate steps to provide accommodations for students with disabilities and be more thoughtful when planning future construction projects.

Contact (514)- 398-4555 to report accessibility and safety issues on campus.

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