Since June 20, major roadwork has been taking place on the main streets within and adjacent to McGill’s downtown campus. The construction is part of Montreal’s Promenade Urbaine Fleuve-Montagne project, a city-wide renovation marking Montreal’s 375th anniversary next year. The project, which is expected to be completed by May 2017, has worsened the barriers which existed for people with mobility restrictions even before construction began. Disability is not innate; people are rendered disabled by constructed physical environments that refuse to accommodate them. McGill’s campus should always be physically accessible for everyone, and this should be at the forefront of the administration’s decision-making process, both during and after on-campus construction.
McGill doctoral candidate Stephanie Chipeur, who uses a wheelchair, told the CBC that the construction on McTavish blocked a ramp to the Brown Building, making it inaccessible. The construction forced her to miss a doctor’s appointment, and an important event for doctoral students. But even before the construction, McGill has long failed to prioritize accessibility on campus. Those with mobility restrictions face obstacles across campus on a daily basis, including inaccessible bathrooms, only one adapted transport bus in the downtown area, steep hills, snow and ice not being cleared throughout the winter, and a lack of ramps to navigate buildings with stairs. While discussions about accessibility do take place at McGill, the administration has made few visible efforts to improve physical accessibility on campus.
McGill claims to have worked with the City of Montreal to improve wheelchair access on McTavish crossings, which are rough, uneven, and narrow. However, wooden ramps and debris-littered pathways along McTavish and Doctor Penfield are still difficult or dangerous for people with mobility restrictions to navigate, and leave us skeptical towards the sincerity of McGill’s efforts to accommodate people with limited mobility. McGill’s Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) has been consulted by the Facilities Management and Ancillary Services for the past several months on the issue. The OSD is McGill’s official resource through which students with mobility limitations can voice their grievances, but it has little ability or influence over the University’s policies.
For most people, having to take extra stairs, a longer route, or navigate an uneven sidewalk is an annoyance, but little more. For others, it can mean pain or discomfort, missing classes or appointments, and being barred from campus life and activities. As Chipeur said to The Daily, “This is a moment for McGill to be proactive.” We call on the administration to make the necessary changes to ensure physical accessibility during this construction period, to make this a priority in any future construction plans, and to constantly and actively work toward creating a universally accessible campus.