On the 17th October, a group of us set out onto campus in UCD to test and experience what so many students in UCD have to deal with on a daily basis- relying on the “accessible” ways around. Six able-bodied, opinionated women going across campus; testing every door ramp and elevator. A group of six of us in total, two ready to help if needed and four people of little or no experience with physical difficulties in wheelchairs.
We had one rule: no one was to leave their chair until an accessibility audit was complete. This proved to be rather difficult for us- even though I was not surprised by the lack of working wheelchair doors and awkward fitting lifts. The thing that struck me most however this time, was the arrogance of a large sample of the UCD population, who prioritised their laziness over the facilitation for the students not able to take the stairs.
Alyx Giandola, an active member in UCD societies said “I’ve been a student at UCD for the past three years and I’ve always known that the campus is not the most wheelchair friendly, but it wasn’t until my friend asked me if I wanted to participate in an audit of the campus that I realised just how inaccessible most of it was. In the Agriculture building, the only accessible bathroom is on the basement floor. Now imagine being in class on the second floor and having to go to the bathroom. How much class do you think you’d miss?”
These are questions that people forget to consider when coming to UCD. How would you deal with this situation? Heave fire doors, entrances that won’t work or aren’t wide enough, not to mention that in between lectures the paths and corridors are already packed to the brim of people living in their own heads or buried in their phone.
This is one of the biggest struggles in Science. The O’Brien building is new, top of the art, architecturally incredible and yet there is a significantly tiny number of working accessibility doors and an abundance of ignorant students taking the lift instead of the stairs for their own convenience.The UCD Students’ Union Science College officer, Emily Bollard, had this to say: “The O’Brien Centre is one of the most utilised buildings on campus. Despite the high volume of students passing through this building on a daily basis, the facilities for people with disabilities leave a lot to be desired. The main issue with the Science building is the doors. Half of the buttons don’t work when you press them, and when they do work, only one door opens, which cannot accommodate the width of a standard wheelchair. The reason these buttons do not work is because they are used too often by students who do not need them.”
“Furthermore, these students are aggressive when pushing the button, which causes the system to fail. It is appalling to see a lack of consideration by fellow students for those who consider these automatic doors to be a daily necessity. Overall, there is a complete lack of respect for those with disabilities using the Science building and this is something that I would encourage everyone to be aware of.” Overall our audit was an eye opening experience for all of us involved.
A UCD veteran and active member in societies, Laura Cradock felt this from her experience around UCD: “There were several times throughout the day when I had to be physically assisted to go up hills, to get back onto footpaths, to use the ramp outside of James Joyce onto the lake. Being a wheelchair user is hard enough, but UCD have done nothing to make the campus accessible.”
Úna Carroll, Disability Rights Coordinator, UCDSU stated that “my job shouldn’t include having to ask and fight for things that are already supposed to be provided… wheelchair doors. The idea of accessibility is that a person can go anywhere without having an assistant to help them with doors, lifts, bathrooms etc. UCD have made it impossible for wheelchairs to traverse the campus while maintaining their dignity.”
The overall reaction to the audit has been extremely effective and eye opening for those unaware of the daily struggles of students. The aim of the audit was not only to sort the broken and faulty doors, but also to start some frustration and conversation to spread awareness and support for all students – fitting in nicely with UCD’s new approach to equality and inclusion on campus. Although this will not have any immediate effect or conclusion, we all hope that this will start a chain reaction in improving and maintaining a more inclusive and operational campus and community.
Aoibhs Magills is UCDSU Health Science College Officer and Captain of the Wheelchair Basketball Team
This article was updated at 5.10pm on Tuesday 6 November to correct for mistakenly referring to Laura Cradock as UCDSU Disability Rights Coordinator. Úna Carroll is Disability Rights Coordinator for UCDSU.