Is disability access on campus up to scratch?

Published

Credit: Adriana Iuliano

Hanuel Lee
Writer

The University of Glasgow is beautiful, there’s no denying it. The Hogwarts-esque main building, the charming modernity of the Fraser building and the new addition of the Kelvin Hall in 2015. But the place that I find the most alluring is what is behind the doors of the rows of houses in University Gardens.

As pleasing as the campus is to the eyes, it is flawed in its access for the disabled community. I myself have never once been behind the comely doors (with its stained glass and coloured doors) of the locations in University Gardens due to construction blocking disabled access from the back and the steps that lead up to the entrance in the front. I like to imagine that those doors are the entrance to the magical land of Narnia, where whoever walks in is immediately offered a plate of turkish delights, or perhaps these doors are the entrance to Alice’s wonderland, where you’ll see a little white rabbit hopping around fretting about time.

In all seriousness, the University isn’t as accessible and welcoming as it should be to people of different physical abilities. The Adam Smith Building, one of the very few accessible buildings on campus, has had a patchy lift for months now. Just two weeks ago, the lift there decided to give out and leave me stranded on the fourth floor. This in itself would be considered unlucky, but right at that time it turned out that the engineers were busy… fixing another lift on the other end of campus which had people stuck inside of it. This was only a minor inconvenience because I’ve experienced my fair share of troublesome elevators and, honestly, I didn’t really want to go to my next lecture anyway.

What is going to be a more problematic issue, however, is when the lift will be fully out-of-action early next semester as it is replaced by a more reliable model. This may be better in the long run, however, the Adam Smith Building is one of the few accessible buildings for seminars, what with University Gardens being out of commission, Oakfield Avenue only having one accessible building, and the main building having limited spaces. You can see how this might be a little inconvenient. Furthermore, I’ve been needing to change some of my classes for next semester which I’ve been warned may not be possible because the accessible rooms (most of which are in the main building) are likely to be booked up.

It seems that the most viable alternative is to try and get the construction finished behind University Gardens as soon as possible (it’s been going on for quite a few months now) or to get the lift fixed during the holiday season – and neither of these are likely to be an easy fix.

One way that the University has tried to make up for the lack of accessibility is by trying their best to accommodate me in rooms that I will be able to use. Most seminars for my semester were originally supposed to be held in University Gardens, which they’ve managed to move to accessible classrooms (such as in the Hetherington Building or a couple of the accessible areas of the Adam Smith Building). If there are problems like a faulty lift, I try to find out beforehand and email the course convener about access and getting to tutorials.

However, the buildings aren’t the only problem. The streets outside aren’t fully accessible either. Maybe you’ve seen me outside the Glasgow University Union zooming around in my wheelchair, on the road because my wheelchair struggles to get onto the sidewalk due to the lack of sloping on the concrete. Most pavements aren’t that wheelchair-friendly (particularly on the way to and from the St Andrews building to the main campus), which is why I need a pal with me to shove my wheelchair up by force while the poor batteries drain themselves out. It gets even worse in the rain, where my wheels struggle to get stable grip on the pavement – the slope from the QMU to the Boyd Orr Building is risky because one slip and I could break my neck.

Socially, it’s difficult to get by. The buttons are inconveniently placed in the Queen Margaret Union, meaning that unless I have someone to press them for me, I’m left awkwardly hovering at the entrance hoping someone walks by so I can ask them to press them for me. The Glasgow University Union is worse, with there being only one accessible way to get to places and so I have to navigate through a couple of lifts and various twists and turns, interrupting various society meetings to get to where I need to go. Majority of the time, it’s too much effort (and a little embarrassing) so I don’t bother showing up.

It should be noted that even though these are all frustrating to deal with, I do realise that a lot of these issues are difficult to change immediately, despite the University’s best efforts. Glasgow University is old and that isn’t something anyone can change, and its age and history is part of its charm. And really, these are all inconveniences that I’ve experienced at least once before as a wheelchair user. What’s the harm in dealing with it for a few more years, when I get to study in a building that looks straight out of a fictional fantasy novel?