Accessibility at the Ryerson Student Learning Centre

Written by Alanna O’Connor, Ryerson Grad RTA ’15, SLC Assistant

My return to campus this month has been a whirlwind experience, full of memories, new learning curves and confusing walks in Kerr Hall. As a new member of the SEAL team and as a graduate of Ryerson, I’m thrilled to be part of the Ramily once again. Through my short time here I’ve learned that the Student Learning Centre (SLC) is more than just a building, it’s a culture that fosters innovation while always keeping students’ needs its highest priority.

During my second week on campus the Toronto Star published an article about activists who use the social media hashtag #AODAFail to point accessibility flaws in buildings, public spaces, parking lots, shopping centres etc. The article touches on three new buildings in Toronto that exhibit accessibility flaws as part of their structural design. Among the examples listed was our beloved SLC and its ‘hang out steps’ located at the front entrance on Gould St.

#RoadToRyerson: Imagine you’re on Gould St., gazing up at the SLC, the front door to Ryerson. It’s your first day of class. How do you access the front door? Do you use the front stairs or navigate through crowds of people on the ramp?

What if you don’t have a choice?

As the front door to Ryerson, it is our responsibility to ensure equal access to spaces with visibly marked and unobstructed accessible entrances. The SEAL team takes this matter very seriously and we are actively working on solutions. Following the article we met as a team to discuss our plan of action: How can we do better?

Exterior signage has been installed to easily identify the front entrance ramp and the accessible elevator at street level. Over the following weeks we will be monitoring the area to ensure our users’ needs are being fully met. In addition to these measures, grooves will be installed at the entrance and end of the ramp, as well as the bottom and top of the stairs, following feedback from a student to improve independent navigation for persons who are blind or partially sighted. This feedback is crucial to our success and we extend our sincerest appreciation to the individuals who have stepped forward to point out areas of improvement to make this a better place for all.

After investigating the steps I learned about other concerns brought up since the building opened in February 2015. The SEAL team had tracked over ten items and indicated if they had been brought up by a student, staff or faculty member. In addition to their findings, Access Ryerson’s Student Engagement Working group, a team comprised of students who are actively engaged in creating a more inclusive campus, met with the SEAL team in November 2015 to discuss their experience in the SLC. Here’s what I found out:

Wayfinding to SLS Reception: A student contacted the SEAL team about having difficulty easily identifying the path to the SLS Reception on the 4th floor. SEAL Response: The SEAL team consulted with Student Learning Support (SLS) executives, staff, students, members of Access Ryerson and CPRE. Resulting from their discussions, a bright yellow pathway was installed (high contrast colours are more easily visible to persons who are blind or partially sighted) leading from the elevators to the SLS Welcome Desk. Check it out for yourself on the 4th floor!

Adjustable Study Carrels: On the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th floor there are height adjustable desks for students to access. However, during the soft launch it was noticed that the desks were placed in inaccessible locations, making them hard to reach for students using wheelchairs. SEAL Response: Move the desks! Next time you’re in the building look out for the white desks that have an operating bar located on the front. Give it a try and see how important they are to a student’s success.

LIB – SLC Bridge Doors: Noise often carries into the library during events held in the Amphitheatre causing us to close the doors on the bridge connecting the Library. During an event, it was discovered that an automatic door button was missing – resulting in an inaccessible route for students crossing over from the library to the SLC or vice versa. SEAL Response: An automatic button was installed immediately. PS. If you haven’t attended an event in the Amphitheatre yet, check our events calendar, all events are free and open to the community.

Ramp Signage: The 6th floor is a hot spot for group hang outs, with it’s popularity, overcrowding normally tends to spill from the seating areas onto the accessible ramp. SEAL Response: We discovered that many students hang out on the ramp because of electrical outlets. At the end of August, our awesome CF + S (Campus Facility + Sustainability) team deactivated those outlets to encourage students to charge their devices elsewhere and ensure clear paths and reduce tripping hazards for all.

Audio Levels in the Elevator: Valuable feedback was received from students with hearing impairments regarding the decibel levels of the audio indicators in the elevator: they were not loud enough, causing them to be unsure of which floor they were on or know when an elevator was available. SEAL Response: Using AODA as a guideline, we were able to adjust the sounds to ensure they were at a regulated volume but also not disruptive to students studying on the floor.

As a leading university in Canada we have an immense responsibility to ensure our campus is inclusive, diverse and accessible. We strive to do our best as a community to ensure everyone has equal rights and access. If you notice areas of improvement please let us know, we’d love to hear from you: email us at slchelp@ryerson.ca or visit us at our headquarters in LIB272B.