By: Michael Running
Most of us take time for granted. Whether you’re talking about the 10 minutes you have to move from class to class or the hour and a half you’re given to write your midterm, few people are actually cognizant of its value.
This past week, the MSU hosted Maccess, a campaign held on campus to raise awareness for the issues faced by McMaster students living with different forms of disability. These students are especially aware of how important their time is, and one of the main goals of the campaign was to help others understand the struggles that they face on a daily basis. These struggles include not having enough time to reach their next class due to obstacles like stairs or snow-covered sidewalks in the winter, dealing with a mental disability or illness that requires having to seek accommodations for more time on tests or extensions on assignments and having to wait over a month to get an appointment with Student Accessibility Services for the aforementioned accommodations.
Maccess attempted to raise awareness for these issues through activities including chalking off areas around campus to demonstrate the level of accessibility, holding training sessions where students could learn sign language or how to be a sighted guide, hosting a presentation and discussion on mental health, and even an event called “Accessible Perspective” that put able-bodied people in wheelchairs in an attempt to demonstrate the difficulties one could face moving around campus.
VP (Education) Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, was one of the driving forces behind the campaign. “We wanted to have a very holistic campaign that tried to highlight a variety of different disabilities to make students more aware of the challenges on campus,” said Semianiw.
However, some people questioned the direction that the campaign took. Sarah Jama, the Ontario Director for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students and a McMaster student, stated, “I think there were pros and cons to the Maccess Campaign. I love the interactive map concept because it was tangible and works to better the lives of people with disabilities on campus.”
Jama was conflicted over events like Accessible Perspective. “What I questioned were the various simulations that [catered] to people without disabilities that were intended to give them a feel for what it was like to have a disability… The main focus here should be that everyone, no matter your ability, deserves to learn and experience a barrier-free environment,” she explained.
While Semianiw acknowledged that there were concerns about running these events, he felt it was important because it provided a snapshot for students and staff at the university to gain some understanding of the struggles students may be facing. “We wanted it to be something where we actually have the university be able to see how accessibility affects students.”
He also mentioned that they facilitated a session with Sean Van Koughnett, McMaster’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Students. “These are the decision-makers that we want to have a very good understanding of these problems because they’re the ones ideally who are going to be looking at funding or looking at decision-making that improves accessibility on campus,” he said.
Regardless of whether or not they approached the topic from the right perspective, the campaign garnered considerable attention. Days after the campaign’s conclusion, at this Sunday’s SRA meeting, the Assembly voted in favour of launching a full-flegded, official service with the same name. The service will function as a peer support network for students with disablities. Although the campaign and the launch of the service are not directly linked, this decision indicates that the campaign is just the beginning of long-term advocacy efforts for increased accessibility on campus.
Photo Credit: Mike Beattie