Science complex receives accessibility award

Administration and students discuss potential disparity between older campus buildings

Turner and Radi in the Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex. Dylan Hewlett

The Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex has received official praise from the city for its universal incorporation of accessible design.

Completed in 2011 as part of the university’s ongoing downtown expansion, the $66-million project earned a City of Winnipeg Accessibility Award at a ceremony at City Hall Oct. 16.

Chris Sobkwicz, access advisory committee co-ordinator for the city, says the new complex goes “above and beyond” to remove barriers for the disabled.

“They included a ton of little things,” said Sobkwicz. “A lot of the building’s accessibility features are so seamlessly a part of the design that they won’t be noticed by the general public at all.”

According to Sobkwicz, these features include cutting-edge accessible washrooms, strobe lights on fire alarms and strategic use of colour to assist with orientation, along with accentuated door frames to help the visually impaired, all of which add to the interior’s aesthetic appeal.

Debra Radi, executive director to the vice-president at the University of Winnipeg, says universal design with respect to accessibility has grown into a major priority for the institution over time.

“Many years ago services for people with disabilities were always considered an afterthought rather than something to pursue proactively,” said Radi. “Now, it’s just sort of what we do. Universal access is a fundamental part of how we plan campus spaces. It’s no longer an afterthought.”

But do older buildings on campus still embody the university’s more modern design philosophy?

Jesse Turner, accessibility advisor for the university’s accessibility services department, says despite challenges, the main campus has managed to stay on par in terms of access.

“I wouldn’t really consider (the difference in accessibility between buildings) a disparity - it’s just different,” said Turner, who uses a wheelchair.

“It’s always more difficult to retrofit a space as opposed to constructing from the ground up and incorporating universal design.”

Accessibility has moved so far beyond just constructing a ramp or putting a button on a door.

Jesse Turner, accessibility advisor, Accessibility Services

Whether or not all of the subtler accessibility features found exclusively in the new Richardson complex will eventually make their way to older campus buildings, they certainly appear to be the way of the future.

The award-winning features are also slated to make an appearance in the future UNITED Health & RecPlex.

“Accessibility has moved so far beyond just constructing a ramp or putting a button on a door,” said Turner.

In the meantime, accessibility continues to expand on the main campus.

According to Turner, the university is currently considering making the main building’s Balmoral entrance accessible and a fully accessible washroom for the main floor of Manitoba Hall - which will incorporate the extra features found in the Richardson complex’s accessible washrooms - is officially in the works.

Accessibility Services has seen 200 new users this year bringing the total number of students registered with the program to 500, a result of its resource centre’s move from the basement of Graham Hall to the first floor of Manitoba Hall last year, Turner said.

Over the course of the move, the department, previously called Disability Services, changed its name to its current, more inclusive designation.

The Accessibility Resource Centre provides exam accommodations, volunteer note-taker coordination and many other services for registered students and is located in 1A08 on the main campus building.

The Forks’ playground, the Centennial Centre and the Birth Centre also received an award.

Published in Volume 67, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 14, 2012)

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