Access Lounge aims to provide safe space for disabled students

UWSA hosted info sessions to see what disabled students want in a space

Mohamed Behi, accessiblity coordinator for the UWSA, stands by a door that will need to be renovated in order to allow access to the accessibility lounge.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) hosted several information sessions for an Access Lounge, a place where disabled students can relax, socialize and study.

Erika Rodeck attended the info sessions. She is a visually-impaired student who’s studying conflict resolution, and she often spends time in the Menno Simons College (MSC) student lounge after classes. While most of the school is supportive, she says that having a dedicated space for disabled students would make her more comfortable.

“I’m all for inclusion, and I’m all for mixing with people … I’m not saying that we should segregate ourselves,” Rodeck says. “At the same time, I think there are instances and times where it’s helpful to have a space for students with disability.

“(There’s) a certain understanding that I think we have. There’s certain things we can talk about. To try to discuss these things with people who don’t have disabilities is difficult sometimes. It’d be good to have a space like that.”

Rodeck toured two of the potential rooms that could be used for the Access Lounge. She finds the MSC student lounge large and easy to get lost in. She said that the potential Access Lounge rooms that were shown to her were smaller and seemed easier for her to navigate.

Mohamed Behi, the accessibility director for the UWSA, says that the response to the info sessions has been positive. The UWSA has gathered student opinions from a variety of sources, and there’s a strong desire for a safe space for disabled students.

“The idea of having an Access Lounge was born out of conversations I had with many of (the) students that currently use the accessibility services,” Behi writes in an email to The Uniter. 

“There was an expressed need for a dedicated quiet space for students with accessibility needs to study and relax. This has been an ongoing desire of our students and was even voiced during the 2008 Visioning Session, a community consultation organized by Accessibility Services.”

Behi says that the lounge will ideally have things like dimmable lighting, couches and assistive technology, such as screen-reader programs like JAWS (Job Access with Speech). 

Rodeck says that having a space like this will help disabled students, like herself, feel respected for their abilities. 

“When I do group work in class, sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself or have to work harder to show that someone with a disability can do work,” Rodeck says. 

“When I’m around other students with a disability, I don’t feel that way.”

Published in Volume 71, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 2, 2017)

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