It’s Easy to Balance the Books at UPEI Ignoring Human Rights

Wade MacLauchlan should be trying to expand the boundaries of accessibility at University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) we are fighting a battle that is so basic it was won decades ago in other places. If they can’t get to class Wade, you aren’t making UPEI accessible.

I was glad to learn last week that UPEI has a final solution for the disabled parking problem. They have installed one disabled spot within 6 feet of the McDougall building.

I was told this by a seemingly intelligent and competent adult who wondered why I wasn’t happy with the accessible parking at UPEI. There are plenty of blue parking spots and the one at MacDougall is only 6 feet from the door.

If only life was that simple: all the students and staff who needed accessible parking because of their disabilities only attend classes or work in the MacDougall building.

The reality is that the students need access to different classes, cafeteria, library, chapel, and other UPEI buildings from the start to the end of the day. That they need to walk or wheel more than 200 m is disability discrimination of the worst kind.

By way of comparison, Dalhousie University was setting up a pilot this year of having the classes for a student with a disability move to a single location. They realized the campus was built for the young and fit and he would not be able to travel across the wide campus to attend his classes.

9 of 17 buildings at UPEI are not accessible from parking lots at the perimeter. MacDougall, despite my friends exaggeration (6 feet), has accessible parking 25 meters from the door. Most of the “blue-painted” parking is empty because it is too far for people with disabilities to use.

UPEI 2009 accessible parking survey

That means for the first class or appointment of their day, students with disabilities will be walking more than the maximum 50 m provided by the law. That does not take into consideration that their next class or activity might be a different building hundreds of meters away.

If the accessible parking was close to each building, they could use a vehicle to transfer from one side of campus to the other. When the first parking spot is too far away, the only choice is to walk with difficulty or push the wheelchair to the next location.

Moving from class to class tends to exhaust the disabled so that they cannot concentrate when they get to class. This is a real problem that K-12 educators learned when they try to integrate students with disabilities. This is one of the reasons children are given power wheelchairs in school, even when they can push a chair or walk with difficulty. Exhaustion can make it hard for the student to learn in class.

People with vision disabilities and mobility disabilities find UPEI a tough campus to attend. The accessible parking issue is just one example of the stubborn insistence on disability discrimination practiced at UPEI.

The law is not particularly generous in setting the maximum distance of 50 meters from the parking lot to the building. For somebody with disabilities even that distance may be a bridge too far. Nine of the buildings on the UPEI campus don’t even meet the minimum legal standard.

That in a nutshell is the problem. Phony accessibility committees and seven year plans mask an obvious attempt to deny basic human rights to students and employees with disabilities at UPEI.

The Globe and Mail in a business article this week lionized UPEI president Wayne MacLachlan as a visionary, efficient and effective manager of the University. A vision for PEI, on a smaller scale.

It probably is easy to save money at UPEI by refusing to carry out what is required by people living with disabilities. This is the promise of right-wing dictators: I can make life simple for you if you let me suspend human rights and civil liberties. A simple focus on building bricks and mortar and fund raising belies the complexity of life today.

In Canada there are very few protections for people living with disabilities. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is merely a statement of legal goodwill towards people living with disabilities. We have no protection under law from people like president Wayne MacLachlan who seek to deny basic human rights to the disabled to save money or for their own purposes.

Universities cannot operate independent of society and the evolution of societal standards. There is a schizoid nature to a university. On the one hand they are beacons of learning and research. On the other they are reactionary bastions of conservatism and power, resistant to change and social progress.

In United States. the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people living with disabilities from discrimination at work or at school. The settlement announced yesterday by the Department of Justice to stop Amazon.com from marketing the Kindle to universities is a good example of the law protecting people with disabilities from a half-baked solution. Kindle banned in schools discriminates against blind

The Kindle has some of the features needed by blind students but not enough to make it workable. Amazon.com is not allowed to market the product in universities until they make it accessible for the disabled.

President Wade MacLauchlan is no doubt efficient in managing UPEI; however, he will go down as a disability bigot in the age of disability human rights. That’s hardly a great legacy.

Who will protect the students and employees with disabilities at UPEI from leaders who care to disregard the law, disability conventions and basic human decency?

Written by Stephen Pate
January 14th, 2010 at 11:09 am

Reproduced from http://www.njnnetwork.com/?p=31260